Indigenous peoples, also known as first peoples, aboriginal peoples, native peoples, or autochthonous peoples, are ethnic groups who are the original inhabitants of a given region, in contrast to groups that have settled, occupied or colonized the area more recently. Groups are usually described as indigenous when they maintain traditions or other aspects of an early culture that is associated with a given region. Not all indigenous peoples share this characteristic, sometimes having adopted substantial elements of a colonising culture, such as dress, religion or language. Indigenous peoples may be settled in a given region (sedentary) or exhibit a nomadic lifestyle across a large territory, but they are generally historically associated with a specific territory on which they depend. Indigenous societies are found in every inhabited climate zone and continent of the world.
Indigenous communities have long been the frontline of resistance against deforestation; mineral, oil, and gas extraction; and the expansion of monocrop plantations. Their resistance prevents land-based carbon emissions, and maintains or increases carbon sequestration.
Indigenous and community-owned lands
Indigenous and community-owned lands represent 18 percent of all land area, including at least 1.2 billion acres of forest, containing 37.7 billion tons of carbon stock. Growing the acreage under secure indigenous land tenure can increase above- and belowground carbon stocks and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation.
Beyond carbon, indigenous land management conserves biodiversity, maintains a range of ecosystems services, safeguards rich cultures and traditional ways of life, and responds to the needs of the most vulnerable.
Indigenous people land management
Under indigenous peoples’ land management, deforestation and emissions are significantly reduced, with deforestation and degradation rates roughly ten times lower than the global average. Indigenous peoples have claim to large tracts of forest land around the world, and the current global trend is that indigenous peoples’ legal forest tenure is on the rise.
Granting indigenous peoples and local communities secure tenure to manage their lands thus results in carbon benefits in the form of reduced emissions from deforestation and continued carbon sequestration. It can be seen as a form of productive forest protection, given sustainable management and utilization of forest products.
Impact and results
Indigenous peoples have secure land tenure on 1.3 billion acres globally, though they live on and manage much more. Our analysis assumes higher rates of carbon sequestration and lower rates of deforestation on lands managed by indigenous peoples. If forestland under secure tenure grows by 909 million acres by 2050, reduced deforestation could result in 6.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions avoided. This solution could bring the total forest area under indigenous management to 2.2 billion acres, securing an estimated protected stock of 232 gigatons of carbon, roughly equivalent to over 850 gigatons of carbon dioxide if released into the atmosphere.
Ways and practices
- home gardens,
- agroforestry systems,
- shifting swidden cultivation,
- pastoral approaches to raising livestock,
- fire management, and
- community managed forests.
Despite the fact that forests are degrading, although minimally, under the management of indigenous peoples, Project Drawdown advocates for the adoption of this solution due to its social benefits associated with the indigenous communities, better sustainability over other modes of forest protection, and the remoteness of many forest areas in hard climatic conditions which are difficult to be managed by any agency not living there. This solution addresses long-standing indigenous rights issues, protects carbon stocks equal to hundreds of gigatons of carbon dioxide, and provides a basis for sustainable rural livelihoods. As such, it should be a top priority for forest lands everywhere that indigenous people are striving to regain control of their traditional forests.