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Indigenous people are Earth’s greatest champions. Listen to us – and watch biodiversity thrive

When discussions take place about environmental protection, we are always ignored. That’s a huge mistake

The global biodiversity framework established in Montreal at Cop15 aims to protect 30% of the Earth by 2030.’ Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock This week the UK government is holding a meeting to discuss generating more finance to conserve and restore nature. This is following its adoption of a global biodiversity framework in Montreal – the so-called biodiversity Cop15 – in December. Given that it is the destruction and loss of nature that drives the biodiversity crisis, and the framework aims to protect 30% of the Earth by 2030, this all seems like good news.

But as with the discussions in Canada over the framework itself, when it comes to the money, Indigenous peoples are being left out in the cold yet again. While the meeting will bring together private, public sector and philanthropy groups, we have no seat at the table. That’s a mistake. Addressing this crisis is not simply about getting the numbers right. The question of how these funds will be spent should be part of the agenda too, including who will spend them. All too often, states simply do not recognise the right to ownership over lands and territories of Indigenous peoples – and this has a huge impact on the conservation of natural resources. Worse, if communities are not part of the design of conservation projects, they have no input on the what, when and how of things such as reforestation efforts. And there’s ample evidence that Indigenous peoples are, in fact, the best custodians of biodiversity.

Since the 1980s, in my region of Benguet in the northern Philippines, the government has been carrying out reforestation projects involving millions of dollars in grants or loans. In the early years, consultants recommended fast-growing species such as gmelina and eucalyptus to quickly reforest large areas, only to find they depleted water supplies. While the government contracted communities to plant seedlings, there was no budget for maintaining the young trees and many failed to thrive. And with the government claiming the land was public, some in the community felt little sense of responsibility to extinguish forest fires when they broke out. In contrast, there are areas in the Philippines’ Cordillera region that still have intact forest cover, where communities have been able to defend their land from mining and logging interests. Elsewhere in the country, the ancestral domains of the Palaw’an and the Mangyan peoples, on the islands of Palawan and Mindoro, have also remained intact. Their forests are teeming with native tree species, such as the almaciga, and unique animal species, found only in these locations, such as the tamaraw in Mindoro. Where communities were involved and in control of stewardship, nature was conserved better.

Indigenous peoples are the rightful owners of many of the remaining spaces where biodiversity thrives, and as such we have much to contribute. Our efforts to protect nature should be supported. What’s more, Indigenous peoples have been serving humanity through their sustainable use of biodiversity for generations – pro bono and even, at times, at great peril to their lives.

Indigenous peoples have asked for direct access to funding so we can fully exercise our role addressing the twin issues of biodiversity loss and the climate crisis. I myself have been part of efforts to lobby the body that allocates much of this funding, the Global Environment Facility, to be more responsive to our needs. But it consistently prioritises the needs of donors, not of those of us who are the custodians of biodiversity. Read the full article at the Guardian Author: Minnie Degawan

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