COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland last year, saw a range of commitments on forests. In addition to agreeing to halt forest loss and land degradation, significant resources were pledged to facilitate a transition to sustainable production and land-use models, as well as to support Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLC). The challenge now is to translate these pledges into transformative action, however, this must not be at the expense of civic engagement. Forest and land economies need to be rebuilt around principles of equity, sustainability and regeneration.
Equity or speed?
One of the recurring critiques of international conferences, such as COP26, is that the agendas primarily reflect the concerns of the Global North. For instance, there has been a greater focus on carbon markets and global supply chains at the expense of priority issues for poorer nations such as poverty, education and food security.
The impacts of the climate crisis are disproportionately experienced by those who are the least responsible and a critical element of moving toward a more equitable world is to listen to those at the forefront of climate change and ensure they can participate in designing solutions.
However, the participation of under-represented communities is often an after-thought. It is for this reason that these communities have at times boycotted so-called ‘global’ summits and proposed their own solutions instead. For example, in 2021 the People’s Tribunal found the UNFCCC guilty of failing to address the root causes of climate change and proposed nine measures for redress.
In the months and years ahead, it is crucial for the international community to ensure that adequate consideration is given to the needs of those living in different contexts and develop diverse and inclusive solutions. For example, solutions can be found that address both climate change and the needs of rural people as demonstrated by the cases of Brazil’s smallholding communities and Vietnam’s smallholder coffee growers.
Shifting towards diverse and inclusive solutions
One way to ensure that sufficient attention is given to the needs of all stakeholders is to ensure that multidimensional wellbeing indicators are included in the theories of change of initiatives so that these are monitored. All too often, these have tended to focus on biophysical indicators, such as tons of carbon or forest area, while neglecting issues such as food and livelihoods.
It is also important to enable marginalized groups to fully participate in decision-making processes. IPLCs are central to the fight against the climate crisis and to establishing a sustainable future for all. In light of this, they need to be considered as agents of change rather than the recipients of initiatives or programmes.
It is important to keep in mind that challenges related to diversity and inclusion are complex and context-specific and that ‘one size fits all’ solutions are inadequate. Yet, there are a number of ways in which governmental, financial and corporate entities can engage with all stakeholders on the ground.
Firstly, processes for establishing free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) are needed which imply informed – and non-coercive – negotiations between all stakeholders involved.
Secondly, as mentioned, marginalized groups need to be mainstreamed in decision-making processes and establishing multi-stakeholder forums is one way to achieve this. Though the inclusion of under-represented communities is not straightforward, CIFOR’s guidance on inclusion brings together several tools which show how distinct dimensions of social differentiation intersect in practice.
Some of the challenges of inclusive processes have been highlighted by Ketty Marcelo Lopez. Ketty reports how indigenous women face gender discrimination and rarely achieve land security. But, through ONAMIAP, an organization campaigning for the rights of Peru’s indigenous women, she has been helping to ensure that indigenous women’s voices are heard in their local communities and at the national level too.
There is global recognition of the need for improved protection of the world’s forests as part of efforts to tackle climate change. But, for such initiatives to be successful, diverse voices must be integrated into decision-making and wellbeing must be centre stage. Calls for environmental justice are growing ever louder. Transformative – and inclusive – action from the international community is now of the essence.
Florie Chazarin, Research Consultant, Environment and Society Programme; Dr Thiago Kanashiro Uehara, Research Fellow, Environment and Society Programme and Alison Hoare, Senior Research Fellow, Environment and Society Programme.