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Empowering indigenous people in the Amazon to address climate change

100,000 people in five countries to benefit from training to better represent their communities in climate change negotiations

Indigenous communities are among those most fundamentally affected by the impacts of climate change. Their dependence on the natural environment for physical, economic, cultural and spiritual survival makes them highly vulnerable to changes in temperature and rainfall as well as other climate related events that affect their food security, livelihoods and physical survival.

In Latin America, indigenous peoples of the Amazon Basin are especially vulnerable as their lands are being rapidly deforested and degraded under growing pressure from agriculture and extractive industries; many of the ecosystems upon which they depend have already been irreversibly damaged. It is estimated that if present deforestation trends continue, 30 percent of the current standing Amazon forest will disappear by 2050.

Despite their role as stewards of the forest, indigenous peoples have been unable to play a significant role in the dialogue and decision-making processes and activities relating to climate change mitigation and adaptation. As the climate change dialogue becomes increasingly sophisticated with new science, as well as market and governance options, the capacity of indigenous peoples to participate and contribute to the design of these activities will further decrease due to a persistent lack of access to information and resources to effectively participate in local, regional, national and international meetings and processes.

A $1 million technical cooperation project recently approved by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) will attempt to address this gap by building the capacity of indigenous communities in the Amazon to more effectively represent their views and interests in climate change negotiations.

With a two year period of implementation, the project will support capacity building for indigenous leaders and their communities so that they can more effectively participate in the consultation processes, negotiations and decision-making relating to climate change agendas in the Amazon basin as well as better manage the impacts of climate change on their communities. The project also supports pilot projects and monitoring and evaluation.

In particular, IDB support will help finance specialized capacity building in climate change, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) and the voluntary carbon markets for indigenous leaders in five countries and up to 250 communities in the Amazon region. It will also will provide technical assistance for carbon mapping and land management planning, which will become more important as voluntary market mechanisms such as REDD continue to be developed and implemented.

"The IDB is committed to the participation of indigenous peoples in the issues that affect their lives and livelihoods,” said Kristyna Bishop, team leader for the project at the IDB. “This is a good example of the value added the IDB can offer to support both national governments and indigenous leaders to address the impacts of climate change."

A unique and innovative aspect of the project is that the project was developed by a multi-sectoral team consisting of several divisions of the IDB,the Coordinadora de las Organizaciones Indigenas de la Cuenca Amazonica (COICA), Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and the Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC). It will be executed directly by indigenous and national organizations led by COICA in collaboration with EDF and WHRC.

The project was officially launched at COICA Headquarters in Quito, Ecuador on March 18th. Among the participants were representatives from the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment, Ministry of Cultural Patrimony, Ministry of State, COICA and IDB.

During the launch, COICA’s project coordinator, Juan Reategui, presented the project’s objectives and components and said “Participation in international events will allow us to have our voice heard and to share successful experiences and lessons learned about our relationship with our mother nature.” Diego Escobar of COICA added, “Historically, projects were not in the hands of indigenous people. We always said that we were unable to manage a project or we were minorities. However, this cooperation between the IDB and COICA will enhance our work with our communities for a shared objective”.

Government representatives also expressed their commitment and support for the project and voiced appreciation for the efforts to improve the participation of indigenous peoples in climate change dialogues.

A second project launch event will be held at the IDB headquarters in Washington, DC on Tuesday, on May 24, with representatives from COICA, EDF and WHRC to coincide with the 10th Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. This year’s session features the environment as one of its central themes.