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Main Issue

Nearly a quarter of the Earth’s surface and vast ocean areas are managed by indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs), and these areas hold 80% of the Earth's biodiversity. In addition, an estimated 37.7 billion metric tons of carbon is contained in lands where IPLCs have full legal tenure. This presents both enormous challenges and opportunities for the environment and indigenous peoples themselves. 

The efforts of indigenous peoples to maintain their territories have been critically important in providing global environmental benefits. Given the inextricable bond of indigenous peoples to the land, any loss of natural resources threatens their identity and impoverishes their communities. But indigenous peoples are not only victims of a deteriorating global environment: they are also a source of effective solutions. 

The rich traditions and bountiful knowledge of Indigenous Peoples can help the world cope with changing environmental patterns and conditions. And since indigenous peoples are often particularly vulnerable to  climate change, our efforts at conserving  biodiversity  can also strengthen their economic and cultural resilience.

What We Do

The GEF has been working in partnership with indigenous peoples since its inception in 1991. We were one of the first international financial institutions to develop an independent policy to engage with civil society, including indigenous peoples. This policy provides the basis for participation of indigenous peoples in all aspects of our work. 

In recent years, the GEF has enhanced its partnership with indigenous peoples in various ways. We have adopted  Principles and Guidelines for Engagement with Indigenous Peoples. We have developed the  GEF Policy on Agency Minimum Standards on Environmental and Social Safeguards  (which includes a minimum standard dedicated to indigenous peoples). And we have established the  GEF Indigenous Peoples Advisory Group  (IPAG), whose members include indigenous peoples and others, and provides useful guidance and partnership to the GEF Secretariat.  

Our work is guided by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). As the financial mechanism of the Rio Conventions, the GEF also recognizes the importance of protecting Indigenous Peoples, and the land and resources upon which they depend. 

At the 11th Conference of the Parties, for example, the  Convention on Biological Diversity  (CBD) invited the GEF to provide support to Indigenous and local communities to build capacity to participate in legal, policy and decision-making processes, and assist in building their capacity related to genetic resources and traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources for the implementation of the  Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-Sharing

For its part, the  United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change  (UNFCCC) has stipulated that National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) should include indigenous peoples in all stages — from design and implementation to monitoring and evaluation. The GEF supports NAPs through its  Adaptation  focal area.


Between 1991 and 2014, the GEF actively involved Indigenous Peoples in over 220 medium- and full-size projects and more than 2,300 projects under the GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP). Biodiversity conservation continues to dominate among projects with Indigenous Peoples. However, in recent years, indigenous peoples have been increasingly involved in other GEF focal area projects, such as Climate Change Adaptation and Sustainable Forest Management. Outcomes from these projects include improving indigenous peoples-related policies; enhancing co-management of protected areas; sustainable and integrated natural resource management; and strengthening institutions, capacity and skills, and knowledge development. 

Indigenous peoples inhabit nearly one-third of the area of the seven countries in Central America. A GEF project is strengthening the role of the region’s indigenous peoples in biodiversity conservation and management. It builds their capacity to protect and manage their natural and cultural resources, as well as rescuing and reinforcing traditional land-use practices developed over centuries.

Looking Ahead

Building on this foundation, in GEF-7 (2018-2022) the GEF is working with indigenous peoples and local communities, national governments, NGOs, and others to strengthen the capacity of IPLCs to conserve biodiversity. 

GEF projects funded with the regional/global set aside are focusing on geographies where IPLC territories that are home to globally significant biodiversity, and that may also include important carbon stocks, are under threat.  

Project investments focus on: 

  • Site-based conservation and sustainable use; 
  • Sustainable financing of IPLCs-driven conservation; and  
  • Capacity development for IPLC organizations and integration of diverse knowledge systems to achieve conservation and sustainable natural resource management outcomes.