For Effective Climate Change Action, Indigenous Voices Must Be Heard

Around this time every year, dozens of indigenous leaders leave their often-remote homelands  around the globe and travel — sometimes thousands of miles — in order to attend an important meeting.

women in Konashen Community-Owned Conservation Area, Guyana

A Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) team member meets with local women from the Konashen Community-Owned Conservation Area in southern Guyana in 2006. CI has worked in partnership with, trained and learned from indigenous peoples for more than 25 years. (© Piotr Naskrecki)

This meeting is the U.N. climate change negotiations, a global meeting where governments, NGOs, indigenous peoples and local communities discuss issues related to climate change and make decisions that will impact how the global community responds to climate change-related threats.

Decisions made — or not made — in this forum are already having huge impacts on indigenous communities. However, the bigger the role they have in the process, the better off we all may be. Continue reading

What Does Climate Science Look Like? Here’s One Example

Patricia Alvarez measures a tree, Peru

The TEAM Network’s Patricia Alvarez conducts a vegetation survey in Peru. By aggregating TEAM’s data from sites across the planet, scientists are able to get a broad view of global trends in the health of ecosystems and species. (© Benjamin Drummond)

Right now, thousands of people from across the globe are attending the U.N. climate talks in Lima, Peru.

Many of them are representing the world’s nations as they attempt to make progress on an international climate change agreement that is due next year. But country delegation members aren’t the only attendees. Many participants are there to share their experiences and learn from others, whether the subject is building community resilience to climate change impacts or expanding scientific knowledge of how ecosystems are being affected.

Patricia Alvarez is one of those people. As a site manager for the Tropical Ecology Assessment & Monitoring (TEAM) Network, Patricia spends much of her time measuring trees in Peru’s Manú National Park. Continue reading

The Forest that Fights Climate Change

As U.N. climate change negotiations kick off in Lima, Peru this week, Will Turner explores why tropical forests are an essential part of the discussion.

Aerial view of Guyana's Essequibo River and surrounding forest

Aerial view of Guyana’s Essequibo River and surrounding forest. Guyana has one of the highest levels of forest cover of any country in the world, which contain crucial freshwater systems and help fight global climate change. (© Pete Oxford/iLCP)

When we think about causes of climate change, we think smokestacks and tailpipes. Google “solutions for climate change” and you might get recommendations to change your light bulbs, recycle and travel less. Yet a major driver of global warming consistently goes under the radar: the destruction of natural ecosystems, especially rainforests.

Forests, it turns out, are heavy hitters in atmospheric cycles. Through photosynthesis and respiration, trees and other plants take in and release gigatons of carbon annually. Earth’s forests are literally made of carbon, a dominant component of everything from branches, foliage and roots to leaf litter, soils and peat deposits. Spread that over millions of square kilometers and one can begin to comprehend this astonishing fact: The Earth’s remaining forests contain about 860 billion tons of carbon — more than the entire atmosphere.

But there’s a catch: Forests only store that carbon while they’re standing. Continue reading

How Nature Inspires and Transforms Us All

This is the ninth blog in CI’s Nature Is Speaking campaign. Read all blogs in this series.

man holding toad, Choco, Colombia

A man holds a previously undescribed species of toad in the department of Choco, Colombia. (© Robin Moore/ iLCP)

A furtive rustling sound first drew me to the pile of dead leaves. Then I spotted it. A long, snuffling nose emerged into the crisp air, soon followed by an impossible array of bi-colored spikes seemingly exploding in every direction. I watched, transfixed, as this curious beast continued to push through the underbrush, searching for worms and insects.

How could such a striking and unusual creature be wandering through my urban backyard outside London?

My first encounter with a hedgehog as a young boy remains indelibly imprinted on my mind more than 30 years later. The power of nature to transform us, infusing all of our senses, becomes evident through these vivid, lasting connections. For example, while I can’t recall much from the age of three, I can still clearly feel the joy and wonder that jolted me when I discovered a salamander hiding beneath a rotting log.

The diversity of life on Earth influences us in profound ways — perhaps none more so than a flower, as Lupita Nyong’o eloquently explains in Flower, Conservation International’s latest Nature Is Speaking film.

As Flower says, it feeds people. In fact, flowering plants produce the vast majority of food we eat, like fruits, grains, beans and potatoes, and they provide the world’s poor with 90% of their basic needs.

Continue reading

3 Reasons to Be Thankful for Coral Reefs

Vibrant coral reef with red fan coral and anthius, in the Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape. (© Conservation International/photo by Sterling Zumbrunn)

A vibrant coral reef in the Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape. (© Conservation International/photo by Sterling Zumbrunn)

When the U.S. celebrates Thanksgiving tomorrow, we will sit down and give thanks for our family, our friends and the very meal we eat.

Thanks should also be given to all that nature provides for people: clean air, fresh water and food. Every ecosystem on Earth provides one or more of these essential elements for life, including coral reefs — one of the most productive but threatened ecosystems.

Coral reefs are more than “just rocks,” as my colleague Laure Katz explained last month. They’re immense constructions built by an intricate assembly of living things. They grow slowly but steadily into vibrant oases in the proverbial desert the ocean can sometimes be.

In the more than 100 countries where they’re found, coral reefs provide food, jobs, protection from storms and cultural treasures. A 1997 study of the ecosystem services provided by reefs estimated their annual global value at US$ 375 billion. Adjusted for inflation, that estimate would be over $550 billion today.

Globally, one in six people lives within 100 kilometers (62 miles) of a coral reefbut no matter where you live, here are three reasons to be thankful for coral. Continue reading

How a Filipina Activist Fights for Human Rights at the U.N.

Earlier this year, CI board member and human rights activist Victoria Tauli-Corpuz was appointed as the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the Human Rights Council President. She is the first woman and the first person from a developing country to hold this three-year position. Vicky attended the World Parks Congress this past week in Sydney, Australia. Today on Human Nature, she explains what brought her to this point.

Indigenous peoples in the Mount Mantalingahan Protected Landscape, Panalingaan, Palawan, Philippines. (© Conservation International/photo by Lynn Tang)

Indigenous peoples in the Mount Mantalingahan Protected Landscape in Palawan, Philippines. (© Conservation International/photo by Lynn Tang)

I began teaching myself about human rights during the 1970s, when the Philippines was under martial law. I was actively engaged in the struggle against the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. Indigenous communities like mine were challenged by plans to build mega-hydroelectric dams, militarization, arbitrary arrests, detention and torture of our leaders and activists.

In order to fight back, I needed to understand what our human rights as indigenous peoples are and where we could bring our grievances for redress.

After attending a number of training courses, I established several institutions that provided trainings on human rights to indigenous communities, lawyers and paralegal workers. The latest one is Tebtebba (Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education), based in the Philippines and which provides capacity building and advocacy activities at national, regional and global levels. Tebtebba also convenes the Global Indigenous Peoples Partnership on Climate Change, Forests and Sustainable Development, composed of indigenous organizations, communities and networks in 14 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Measuring the growth of a newly planted mangrove in Silonay, Philippines. (© Nandini Narayanan)

Measuring the growth of a newly planted mangrove in Silonay, Philippines. (© Nandini Narayanan)

Over the years, I have become more involved with the U.N. processes that play integral roles in determining and implementing numerous international human rights, environment and development conventions, standards, policies and programs that impact the lives of indigenous peoples. I was actively engaged in the drafting, negotiations and adoption of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which was eventually adopted by the General Assembly in 2007, when I was Chair of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

My colleagues in Tebtebba and I also actively engaged with the Convention on Biological Diversity and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change to ensure recognition of the UNDRIP. Together with others, we pushed for the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples in the processes of these bodies. Continue reading

Listening to the Forest Giants

This is the eighth blog in CI’s Nature Is Speaking campaign. Read all blogs in this series.

“I’ve seen just about everything.”

Robert Redford — playing The Redwood in our Nature Is Speaking film — sums up the incredible life history of redwood trees, which are older and bigger than most living things on Earth.

We can look upon trees that grew under the same sun as Julius Caesar and were already immense by the time Columbus traveled to the New World. But although they capture our imagination, few realize that just a short time ago, these botanical “dinosaurs” and national treasures were on the brink of destruction.

Logging of these giants began soon after westward expansion reached California in the mid-19th century. Yet the majesty of redwoods was enough to eventually convince President Abraham Lincoln that these trees needed to be protected.

In 1864, during the height of the Civil War, Lincoln took the remarkable step of setting aside the Mariposa Grove of redwoods and sequoias for “public use and recreation … for all time” — essentially creating the first protected area in the country, and in so doing acknowledging that forests have a value beyond the sum of their timber. Public good had won out over short-term private business interests.

But the redwood story did not end there. Although more patches of redwoods have been protected over time, incredibly the logging of giant redwoods continued well into the 1960s and eventually saw over 90% of these ancient trees being cut down for what is considered to be timber of mediocre quality. Continue reading

Hope for Conservation and Peace in the Korean Demilitarized Zone

Todd Walters is currently attending the World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia.

red-crowned crane, Japan

A red-crowned crane, one of many threatened species that has rebounded after years of minimal human impact in the Korean DMZ. (© Olivier Langrand)

It’s the most heavily militarized border in the world — a strip of land 248 km (155 miles) long and 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) wide that is fenced with barbed wire and in some parts still contains land mines. But the “no man’s land” between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea (better known as North and South Korea, respectively) is far from lifeless; in fact, it has become a de facto protected area providing a refuge for rare species and a stopover point for migratory birds.

On top of the death toll and destruction that conflict wreaks on human societies, it also negatively impacts nature, which is considered just another form of collateral damage. Resources are intentionally destroyed as part of the conflict, or indirectly through increased exploitation by local people struggling to survive amid the chaos. But sometimes — as in the case of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) — there’s a silver lining. Continue reading

What We Need from the World Parks Congress

A fishermen in Cape Range National Park, Western Australia. (© Jeff Yonover)

A fisherman in Cape Range National Park, Western Australia. (© Jeff Yonover)

I’m in Sydney, Australia, reporting from the World Parks Congress (WPC) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a once-a-decade event that focuses on the global importance of protected areas. This important gathering brings scientists, government representatives and conservationists together to discuss how best to protect the Earth’s most important lands and waters.

Protected areas come in many forms — national parks, nature reserves, wildlife sanctuaries, etc. — and for more than 50 years, the WPC has played a critical role in their creation. Continue reading

3 Steps to Save the World’s Water Supply

This is our seventh blog about CI’s Nature Is Speaking campaign. Read all blogs in this series.

girl playing in river, Guyana

A girl plays in the Rupununi River in Guyana. (© Pete Oxford/iLCP)

Picture the world the size of a classroom globe. Now imagine a small marble; this is larger than the 0.4% of fresh water available for us to use — the amount not locked up in glaciers or underground.

This “marble” is what allows all people on Earth to survive and thrive. In addition to quenching our thirst, it waters our crops, helps prevent the spread of disease and provides a huge source of electric power.

Our ponds, streams, rivers and lakes contain a larger concentration of life than terrestrial or marine biomes, providing habitat for about 120,000 species (about 8% of all known species). Freshwater plants and animals provide their own benefits for people, from food to water filtration to storm buffering and everything in between.

Yet fresh water, voiced below by Penélope Cruz, is in grave danger.

Continue reading