Indigenous Peoples: Key Partner in Environmental Health

August 12, 2015

One in every twenty people across the world identify as members of an indigenous community.

To mark the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, learn how the GEF is actively engaging these communities as key partners in the fight against biodiversity loss and climate change mitigation.

We interviewed Yoko Watanabe, the GEF’s Indigenous Peoples Focal Point:

1) Why does the GEF pay special attention to Indigenous Peoples in pursuit of its mission to safeguard our global environment?

Securing a sustainable future for indigenous peoples worldwide is of global importance. A rapidly developing globalized economy threatens the lands and resources many indigenous peoples rely upon for their cultural, spiritual and physical survival. What’s more, they often live in environmentally sensitive areas, increasing their vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.

For the GEF, the remarkable spatial convergence between globally important biodiversity sites and indigenous lands, territories and resources presents an enormous opportunity for both conserving biodiversity and supporting indigenous peoples’ livelihoods.  

Indigenous peoples are also a source of effective solutions. In fact, they, along with their traditional knowledge and sustainable resource management practices, have already effectively contributed to safeguarding our global environment, including addressing issues such as climate change and sustainable forest management. 

Collaboration with indigenous peoples is good for the global environment as well as local livelihoods.  We continually seek new and creative ways to enhance our partnerships, and welcome feedback and dialogue.

2) How does the GEF incorporate indigenous peoples into its work?

The GEF is dedicated to ensuring that its operations fully respect the dignity, human rights, economies, cultures and traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples and their members.

The key to remaining current and effective in our work with indigenous peoples involves sustained communication and outreach. This way we ensure that our policies, programs and projects remain relevant. We also seek to monitor and evaluate related work to learn and evolve.

Specifically, the GEF has several policies and guidelines in place that directly support strong partnership with indigenous peoples.  Indigenous peoples are active within the GEF project portfolio and proactively seek new ways to expand their participation. 

In particular, the GEF Small Grants Program is developing new initiatives aimed at increasing access to funding and capacity building for indigenous peoples projects and policy development.

3) How has the Indigenous Peoples Advisory Group supported GEF projects?

Following extensive consultations, the GEF established the Indigenous People’s Advisory Group in 2013. Since then, we have seen awareness about the partnership increase tremendously at both the global and local level.

The Group’s primary function is to provide advice on policy implementation. Consequently, we now receive feedback on how to better incorporate indigenous peoples concerns into our program strategies as well as how to more appropriately design, monitor and evaluate our projects.

What’s more, they are also talking to us about which areas might be more appropriate for expanding the GEF project portfolio involving indigenous peoples. Above all, our dialogue and partnership among Indigenous Peoples and the GEF has been greatly enhanced.

4) It’s estimated that 60 million people across the Americas identify as members of an indigenous community, how is the GEF working in Latin America on indigenous issues?

Close to two-fifths of GEF projects involving indigenous peoples are or have been based in Latin America. Consequently, it is an important region for collaboration.   A large majority of these projects were focused on biodiversity conservation; however other focal areas, such as climate change and sustainable forest management are also growing.

Both the GEF and IPAG are active in Latin America: hosting and participating in local and regional capacity building workshops to share knowledge and opportunities for indigenous peoples. 

Most notably, one GEF project, focused on the creation of a Brazilian Indigenous Peoples National Policy related to forest management was presented during the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples in New York.  And at the most recent GEF Assembly, the GEF supported a fantastic event in Mexico highlighting both traditional and innovative clothing using natural dyes and made by local indigenous women.

Learning from our experiences in Latin America, our work with indigenous peoples is expanding also in Africa and Asia.