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OPINION: To protect vital ecosystems, turn to those living in them

Friday, 14 January 2022 16:01 GMT

A member of the Warao indigenous indian tribe walks barefooted while on the way to the Indigenous University in Cano Tauca in Venezuela's southern state of Bolivar May 11, 2011.REUTERS/Jorge Silva

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

As the U.N. biodiversity conference approaches, efforts to ensure effective nature protection must include indigenous peoples and local communities

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim is president of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad, a U.N. Sustainable Development Goals advocate and a member of The Earthshot Prize Council. The Rob and Melani Walton Foundation is a U.S. philanthropic organization and a founding partner of The Earthshot Prize.

The world is losing its biodiversity at the fastest rate in human history. Already, human activities have significantly impacted 75% of the Earth’s surface, while approximately one million animal and plant species face extinction within the next few decades.

As the need to address this crisis grows ever more urgent, governments from around the world will soon convene for the United Nations Biodiversity Conference, planned in April. The most significant event of its kind for 10 years, its aim is to draft a a comprehensive plan to protect biodiversity and govern our impact on natural ecosystems.

Half of the world’s GDP is dependent on nature. With the health of natural ecosystems on land and in the ocean deteriorating, this is a vital moment, especially for places around the world that are the most species-rich.

To arrest this slide and the impact it can have on the global economy, we need bold steps and transformative change – and we need it now.

This requires mobilizing every sector of society in order to bring solutions to scale, pooling financial resources and direct funding in the most effective way possible, and dramatically expanding our ability to make a durable impact.

But it will also mean identifying the most impactful efforts and training our sights on the communities where support can do the most good.

Through our joint experience in conservation and environmental activism, we have found the best solutions to protect and restore our natural world are rooted in indigenous and local knowledge and lived experience that demonstrates sustained conservation outcomes, combined with the latest science and technology.

Communities that are close to the problem are also close to the solution. Investing in these local efforts that help build the connection between people and planet has the power to supercharge our efforts to meet ambitious biodiversity targets like the 30X30 goal to protect at least 30%of the land and ocean by 2030.

That’s why we are proud to see the recent commitments at COP26 designed to help indigenous peoples and local communities protect land, forests, and ocean biodiversity. And it’s why we are supporting The Earthshot Prize – an ambitious global prize designed to spotlight and scale the best solutions to repair and regenerate our planet.

We’ve already seen this approach work in projects from the 2021 Earthshot Prize winners and finalists.

In Costa Rica, the 2021 "Protect and Restore Nature" Earthshot Prize winner, the government launched a new financial mechanism paying local citizens and indigenous communities to protect forests and the country doubled the size of its rainforest, resulting in a £4 billion tourist boom.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Earthshot Prize finalist the Pole Pole Foundation leads an inspiring community-led conservation model, protecting gorillas and local livelihoods. Malnutrition is a key driver of poaching and through a low-cost farming solution, Pole Pole is providing nutritious food for the community as well as directing poachers to learn new skills.

The initiative has planted millions of new trees, creating a buffer zone between people and the nearby national park.

With nominations for the 2022 Earthshot Prize currently underway, we are seeking even more solutions that put indigenous communities at the heart of the work.

With the climate and biodiversity crisis growing daily, we must act quickly. This requires collaboration and partnerships, empowering all sectors of society to come together to protect and restore critical ecosystems upon which all life depends.

Indigenous peoples and local communities’ voices will be critical in leading to solutions for the future of our planet.

The solutions to the climate and biodiversity crises are out there. We just need to learn from the leaders and communities already leading the way. There is no time to waste.