Thirty years ago, the Earth Summit, which took place in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro, paved the way for the establishment of three major conventions on the environment - specifically on biodiversity, climate change and desertification.
As countries meet on all three conventions in 2022, SDG Advocate and indigenous rights activist Hindou Ibrahim talks about the indispensable role that indigenous communities around the world play in protecting life on our planet - its biodiversity, land and climate.
“As indigenous peoples, we say, we are not different than the rest of the species, we are only one species of nature, so we cannot harm the rest of them. So that's why living in harmony, it's connecting each other, respecting each other and trying to keep the balance without harming the rest of the species - species of nature,” says Ms. Ibrahim.
She is no stranger to international climate change, human rights and sustainability processes. In 1999, at just 15 years of age, she founded the Association of Indigenous Peul Women and Peoples of Chad, a community-based organization that promotes the rights of girls and women in Chad’s Mbororo community which she belongs to.
In the years following, she became the co-chair of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change, and today she is one of the 17 eminent global leaders known as the SDG Advocates.
For centuries, indigenous communities like hers have protected our environment. They care for more than 20 per cent of our planet’s land and 80 percent of its biodiversity.
“For centuries and centuries, my great grandparents have always used the ecosystem. They know the ecosystem, they move from one place to another one to find work in pastures, but in this way of living, it is giving back to nature; it is helping nature to get regenerated in a natural way. So for all the indigenous peoples around the world, this is the deeper connection we have. And that's also why we are protecting 80 per cent of the world's biodiversity. Because for us, it is not a passion, or a job. It is our way of living. And that's what we have done for all generations.”
Their way of life - rich with traditional knowledge and respect for nature - and their ability to manage natural resources sustainably supports the lives and livelihoods of 2.5 billion people or about 1 in 3 people in the world.
“We are very happy that now - from the private sector to the public, to UN agencies, all people are saying how important are indigenous peoples and their role to protect the biodiversity but to fight climate change, they are finally recognizing that indigenous peoples are a solution, we are not only a victim of the climate change,” says Ms. Ibrahim.
Indigenous communities have historically been at the margins of formal global negotiations on climate change. They were finally given a voice alongside governments in 2015 when the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change created the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform.
“When we talk about nature, when we talk about the climate, most of the time people talk a lot, but they do not act, maybe it is difficult for them to find the way to act. This is where the role of indigenous peoples [should be] in the centre of each discussion because we are not only talking, we are acting. We want the people who are talking to follow us and act. If we [have] acted all those years, we won’t be in this pathway of climate impact every single day.”
At the 2021 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, governments pledged $12 billion to stop and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030. $1.7 billion was earmarked to support indigenous communities’ efforts to conserve tropical forests.
However, the world’s nearly 480 million indigenous peoples living in at least 90 countries need support to protect a diversity of ecosystems - from the glaciers in the Arctic to the steppes in Central Asia and the savannahs in Africa - that are threatened by climate change.
“Imagine when you come in country like mine, in Chad. In the north, you have the desert 100 per cent; you come a little bit down, you have the Sahara regions; you go a little bit further you have the savannah. And after the savannah, you have the tropical forests. What is happening with climate change? [With] desertification advanced, the people from the desert moved to the Sahel, the people from the Sahel moved to the savannahs, those from savannah moved to tropical forests. And that's also how the peoples are using the ecosystem that exists. So you cannot choose to protect only the tropical forests. When you place money, you must think about all the rest of the ecosystem that interconnects - from the oceans to the glaciers,” stresses Ms. Ibrahim.
In recent years, the world’s leading scientists have recognized indigenous communities as “some of the best environment stewards” stressing their central role in safeguarding life on our planet. Their traditional knowledge - which is closely linked to their lands, territories and resources - can help end food insecurity, combat climate change and reverse land degradation and biodiversity loss.
“Around the world, we are facing a lot of crises - from the environment to health and to wars. But when we think about the impact of all that, it is based on human survival and planet survival, so we must all act to fight climate change, and protect the world from the wars that is coming from every corner of the world - it could be food security, it could be water, it could be biodiversity, it could be human insecurity, but all is related to climate change, so we can’t be sustainable if we cannot act.”
The interview was first published here as part of the climate thought leader series.