A new study published today in Nature Climate Change reveals that forests formally managed by indigenous and local communities have improved carbon, biodiversity and livelihood outcomes, simultaneously meeting three goals sought by global “solutions” proposals. based on nature” which will be decided at COP28 in Dubai. .
Led by Harry Fischer of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, the research team highlights a solution to address the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, which has led to a growing focus on conservation and forest restoration.
“Our work shows that as global investment in restoration increases, one of the best things we can do is ensure that indigenous and local communities have formal rights and substantial influence over decisions about management,” Fischer said. “General calls for “participation” in project planning are not enough. It is necessary to have more autonomous local governance over longer time horizons and a substantial role for communities in the formulation of management rules.
Using data collected through the International Forestry Resources and Institutions (IFRI) research network, Fischer and his co-authors compared 314 forest plots used and managed by local people in 15 tropical countries. Their goal was to identify what the best examples had in common. For each site, they analyzed tree species richness (an indicator of biodiversity), carbon sequestered in aboveground biomass, and contributions to rural livelihoods.
“These human-dominated forest landscapes are integral to rural livelihoods, incomes and well-being, and they often play a critical role in helping households respond to climate change-related stressors,” Fischer said. New research supports calls for obtain tenure for indigenous and local communities as a strategy to overcome the obstacles that now threaten forest restoration projects. These include the challenges of meeting carbon targets, as well as ensuring sustainability and protecting livelihoods over time.
“Policies to conserve forests and restore degraded and deforested lands include proposals for nature-based solutions that can mitigate climate change-related emissions and ambitious targets for a global expansion of protected areas,” added Fischer . “Such policies frequently target rural tropical landscapes, but many forests in these contexts also have a significant human presence, including an estimated 1.8 billion people who live on land necessary to maintain key biodiversity objectives at the same time. global scale. »
The authors of the new paper emphasize that their work does not prove the cause and that various socio-economic and political factors are important.
“But when we observe this association in a sample of forests from 15 tropical countries in South America, Africa and Asia, it is powerful. There’s something going on there,” Fischer said. “Our results suggest that governance reforms can play an important role in supporting human and environmental goals in rural forested landscapes of the South. »
Governance by indigenous and rural communities is better than tree planting alone
Interestingly, researchers found no positive association with another common forest restoration strategy: tree planting.
“This is likely because rural and indigenous people often depend to a large extent on forests for their well-being,” Fischer said. “They use forests for food, income and culture, and many have managed local forests sustainably for a very long time.
“Compared to government officials, they often have better knowledge of local contexts and are better able to design locally appropriate rules of use. Policies that give local people power over forest management help ensure they have the opportunity to do what they already do well. “
The new findings come as UN climate negotiators prepare to travel to Dubai to hammer out a deal to implement “nature-based” and other solutions to tackle climate change. climate crisis. The UNFCCC published its first global assessment summarize progress made in achieving the Paris climate goals while identifying next steps. But the authors of the global stocktake did not go so far as to advocate for land rights and a central role for indigenous peoples in the design and implementation of “nature-based solutions.”
Despite a large body of research support such a role for indigenous peoples and local communities, new evidence suggests that national governments have been slow to include communities in their plans to achieve climate and biodiversity goals.
More recently, an analysis of 27 national plans aimed at meeting biodiversity targets found that only a third of the plans evaluated sought to strengthen the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, and none of these plans included safeguards to protect communities affected by the expansion of biodiversity. protected areas, which are part of a global initiative to cover at least 30 percent of the world’s land and seas by 2030. The study focuses on Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, covering three of the most biodiverse and largest tropical forests on the planet.
“If governments continue on the same path they have taken so far, I do not see a realistic chance that the 2030 targets will be achieved,” said Darragh Conway, co-author of the report and senior legal consultant for ClimateFocus. “So we need radical change. And based on what we’re seeing so far in countries that are already updating their plans, there are still major challenges ahead to achieve this change.