Mining for Renewable Energy Could Harm Biodiversity More Than Global Warming

Mining for Renewable Energy Could Harm Biodiversity More Than Global Warming

Editor’s note: Fossil fuels are highly polluting, their extraction is linked to human rights abuses, and their continued use is killing the planet. However, renewable energy technologies also have massive unrecognized costs. Our conclusion is that resistance to both of these industries is a moral imperative.

In this article we highlight two scientific studies examining these harms. It is critical that we act proactively to defend threatened land before development plans are cemented and it becomes too late.


Renewable energy production will exacerbate mining threats to biodiversity

by University of Queensland

Researchers have warned that mining threats to biodiversity caused by renewable energy production could surpass those averted by climate change mitigation.

A University of Queensland study found protected areas, key biodiversity areas and the world’s remaining wilderness would be under growing pressure from mining the minerals required for a clean energy transition.

UQ’s Dr. Laura Sonter said renewable energy production was material-intensive—much more so than fossil fuels—and mining these materials would increase as fossil fuels were phased out.

“Our study shows that mining the materials needed for renewable energy such as lithium, cobalt, copper, nickel and aluminum will create further pressure on the biodiversity located in mineral-rich landscapes,” Dr. Sonter said.

The research team mapped the world’s mining areas, according to an extensive database of 62,381 pre-operational, operational and closed mining properties, targeting 40 different commodities.

They found that areas with potential mining activity covered 50 million square kilometers of the planet—35 percent of the Earth’s terrestrial land surface excluding Antarctica—and many of these areas coincided with places critical for biodiversity conservation.

“Almost 10 percent of all mining areas occur within currently protected sites, with plenty of other mining occurring within or nearby sites deemed a priority for future conservation of many species,” Dr. Sonter said.

“In terms of mining areas targeting materials needed specifically for renewable energy production, the story is not much better. We found that 82 percent of mining areas target materials needed for renewable energy production, of which, 12 percent coincide with protected areas, 7 percent with key biodiversity areas and 14 percent with wilderness. And, of the mining areas that overlapped protected areas and wilderness, those that targeted materials for renewable energy contained a greater density of mines than the mining areas that targeted other materials.”

Professor James Watson, from UQ’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation Science and the Wildlife Conservation Society, said the impacts of a green energy future on biodiversity were not considered in international climate policies.

“New mining threats aren’t seriously addressed in current global discussions about the post-2020 United Nation’s Strategic Plan for Biodiversity,” Professor Watson said.

The research team said careful strategic planning was urgently needed.

“Mining threats to biodiversity will increase as more mines target materials for renewable energy production,” Dr. Sonter said.

“Combine this risk with the extensive spatial footprint of renewable energy infrastructure, and the risks become even more concerning.”

More information

Laura J. Sonter et al. Renewable energy production will exacerbate mining threats to biodiversity, Nature Communications (2020). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-17928-5

A University of Queensland study found protected , key areas and the world’s remaining wilderness would be under growing pressure from mining the minerals required for a clean energy transition.

UQ’s Dr. Laura Sonter said renewable energy production was material-intensive—much more so than —and mining these materials would increase as fossil fuels were phased out.

“Our study shows that mining the materials needed for renewable energy such as lithium, cobalt, copper, nickel and aluminum will create further pressure on the biodiversity located in mineral-rich landscapes,” Dr. Sonter said.

The research team mapped the world’s mining areas, according to an extensive database of 62,381 pre-operational, operational and closed mining properties, targeting 40 different commodities.

They found that areas with potential mining activity covered 50 million square kilometers of the planet—35 percent of the Earth’s terrestrial land surface excluding Antarctica—and many of these areas coincided with places critical for .

“Almost 10 percent of all mining areas occur within currently protected sites, with plenty of other mining occurring within or nearby sites deemed a priority for future conservation of many species,” Dr. Sonter said.

“In terms of mining areas targeting materials needed specifically for renewable energy production, the story is not much better. We found that 82 percent of mining areas target materials needed for renewable energy production, of which, 12 percent coincide with protected areas, 7 percent with key biodiversity areas and 14 percent with wilderness. And, of the mining areas that overlapped protected areas and wilderness, those that targeted materials for renewable energy contained a greater density of mines than the mining areas that targeted other materials.”

Professor James Watson, from UQ’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation Science and the Wildlife Conservation Society, said the impacts of a green future on biodiversity were not considered in international climate policies.

“New threats aren’t seriously addressed in current global discussions about the post-2020 United Nation’s Strategic Plan for Biodiversity,” Professor Watson said.

The research team said careful strategic planning was urgently needed.

“Mining threats to biodiversity will increase as more mines target materials for ,” Dr. Sonter said.

“Combine this risk with the extensive spatial footprint of infrastructure, and the risks become even more concerning.”

The research is published in Nature Communications.

Photo by Antonio Garcia on Unsplash


Renewable energy developments threaten biodiverse areas


More information: Laura J. Sonter et al. Renewable energy production will exacerbate mining threats to biodiversity, Nature Communications(2020). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-17928-5

Journal information: Nature Communications


A World at Risk: Aggregating Development Trends to Forecast Global Habitat Conversion

Oakleaf et. al.  / Published in PLOS ONE
Abstract
A growing and more affluent human population is expected to increase the demand for resources and to accelerate habitat modification, but by how much and where remains unknown. Here we project and aggregate global spatial patterns of expected urban and agricultural expansion, conventional and unconventional oil and gas, coal, solar, wind, biofuels and mining development. Cumulatively, these threats place at risk 20% of the remaining global natural lands (19.68 million km2) and could result in half of the world’s biomes becoming >50% converted while doubling and tripling the extent of land converted in South America and Africa, respectively. Regionally, substantial shifts in land conversion could occur in Southern and Western South America, Central and Eastern Africa, and the Central Rocky Mountains of North America. With only 5% of the Earth’s at-risk natural lands under strict legal protection, estimating and proactively mitigating multi-sector development risk is critical for curtailing the further substantial loss of nature.
More information
Oakleaf JR, Kennedy CM, Baruch-Mordo S, West PC, Gerber JS, Jarvis L, et al. (2015) A World at Risk: Aggregating Development Trends to Forecast Global Habitat Conversion. PLoS ONE 10(10): e0138334. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0138334
Indigenous understanding of Salween River key for biodiversity

Indigenous understanding of Salween River key for biodiversity

This story first appeared in The Third Pole.

By Saw John Bright.

This week, governments from around the world will convene online for the first part of the UN Biodiversity Summit COP15 (the second part will take place partially in-person in Kunming in spring), which will agree on the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. Framed as a ‘stepping stone’ to the 2050 Vision of ‘Living in harmony with nature’ as part of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), ratified by 196 countries, this framework is intended to deal with runaway biodiversity loss over the next decade.

Increased attention is being paid to how Indigenous peoples have for centuries realised this aspiration of harmony. Indigenous peoples manage or have rights to 22% of the world’s land, yet this land supports 80% of the world’s biodiversity, even as they struggle to regain ancestral lands that were taken from them in many places. What is less recognised is how Indigenous understanding and perception of reality upholds this harmony.

The CBD meeting three years ago promised greater inclusion of Indigenous peoples and traditional knowledge, and there is much discussion of these issues ahead of COP15. The CBD developed the Akwé: Kon Guidelines in 2004 and further deepened involvement with the launch of a Traditional Knowledge Information Portal. Despite this progress, when mainstreaming of biodiversity into the energy sector was discussed by CBD parties in 2017, the negative impacts of hydropower dams were discussed in biodiversity and ecosystem terms, paying mere lip service to Indigenous rights.

A narrowly technical understanding of hydropower – passed off as “scientific” – underestimates how culture supports economies, conservation and utility for Indigenous peoples living in river basins. When external experts interpret Indigenous knowledge without the context of Indigenous perception of reality (ontology), they fail to grasp its importance. What is needed is an incorporation of Indigenous understanding of reality when discussing biodiversity in Indigenous territories, in order to manage ecosystems better.

The Salween through Indigenous eyes

The Salween River is one of the few major rivers in Asia who still flows freely and uninterrupted by large-scale dams. Roughly 2,400 kilometres long, the Salween flows from the Tibetan Plateau through Yunnan into Myanmar, briefly touching Thailand. The river supports some of the most biodiverse areas in the world and is home to diverse Indigenous groups including the Akha, Blang, Derung, Hmong, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Kokang, Lahu, Lisu, Mon, Nu, Palaung (T’arng), Pa’O, Shan, Tibetan, Yao, and Wa.

As custodians of the Salween River, community members maintain a spiritual relationship with the Salween, as our ancestors have done since they descended from the Tibetan Plateau many centuries ago. For us, the Salween is home to countless important spirits who are intermediaries between our human societies and the environment around us. She supports the sacred animal and plant species who populate our cosmos and carries the memories of our ancestors whose lives were intertwined with the river. Our relationship with the spirits is maintained and the memories of our ancestors kept alive by our continuous interaction with the Salween River. She is the backbone of our traditional knowledge and practices.

This is a wider understanding of the river than a mere provider of ‘ecosystem services’ that sustains our ‘livelihoods’. In our Indigenous understanding and perception of reality, developed over generations of living in the Salween basin, we don’t make a distinction between plants, animals, humans and more-than-humans such as spirits and ancestral spirits. This interconnectedness remains strong because the Salween is a free-flowing river.

These connections are reflected in Indigenous land, water and natural resource management across the Salween basin. As has been noted with reference to the Htee K’Sah guardian spirits of the water in S’gaw Karen ontology in the journal Pacific Conservation Biology,

“Karen environmental governance consists of social relations and ceremonial obligations with more-than-humans… It is through relations with the K‘Sah that Karen villagers relate to the water and land itself, and humans’ rights to use the land are contingent on maintaining these ritual obligations.”

Indigenous knowledge systems lead to better conservation

Our customary water governance traditions include stewardship practices, hunting and fishing restrictions, and ceremonial protocols that have fostered harmony with nature and safeguarded biodiversity. Our river is inhabited and protected by guardian spirits. In sanctuary areas, prayer ceremonies are performed to protect the fish and harm those who fish there. Our traditional watershed management systems designate ecologically sensitive areas such as ridges, watersheds and old growth forests, where the cutting back of forest is prohibited.

The benefits of traditional knowledge and practices for biodiversity thus come from the cultivation of a harmonious relationship between humans and more-than-humans, which is why sacred areas – an old tree or an entire mountain or river – must be protected. The ongoing relevance of such traditional knowledge and practices can be seen in the Salween Peace Park, an Indigenous initiative in Karen state that was awarded the 2020 UNDP Equator Prize. Around 75% of the forests, mountains and rivers that constitute the 1.4-million-acre area is managed according to traditional ‘kaw’ customary knowledge that combines spirituality, culture and conservation. This combination characterises Indigenous knowledge and is at the heart of Indigenous identity even when people have adopted ‘formal’ religions.

Indigenous knowledge and practices that are beneficial for biodiversity cannot be separated from Indigenous understanding and perception of reality. The inseparability of Indigenous ontology, Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous practices is hard to recognise for people living outside these ontologies. It is not possible to capture or preserve our Indigenous knowledge in a museum or a book. What meditation and prayer in a house of worship is for other religions, for us is the interaction with the Salween River. Our knowledge regenerates from our interaction with our environment, especially at the countless natural sacred sites and auspicious confluence points where the Salween meets its tributaries. We see her as a living entity.

Uninterrupted interconnectedness is key for the Salween

There are plans for seven Chinese-built dams along the Salween River, which has been a source of friction between Myanmar and China, as well as the current and previous governments and Indigenous groups. If the Salween River is dammed, it will strike at the heart of our cultures and beliefs. The severance of the river itself and the cascade of consequences will be the death knell for our traditional knowledge and practices for three reasons.

Firstly, the Salween responds to seasonal snowmelt and monsoon rains. Altering these variations in her flow affects the river’s ecology, severing people’s interdependency with the river by causing a decline in local river-linked livelihoods such as fisheries and agriculture. If these are disrupted, young people will have no choice but to take up professions disconnected from the river or move away. Less interaction and cohabitation with the river over time weakens Indigenous knowledge systems.

In the Karen context, Lu Htee Hta is one of the most important ceremonies performed as part of our relationship with the water, a ‘founders’ ritual’ which maintains a social contract with the more-than-human owners of the water and land. If the next generation is not able to conduct these rituals, the social contract will be broken. Without the continuous interactions between animals, humans and non-humans in the Salween basin, Indigenous knowledge will cease, and with it practices that have sustained the rich biodiversity we see today.

Secondly, dam-induced changes to the river’s rhythms, levels and nutrition will reduce the numbers and ranges of many sacred aquatic species that are strictly protected in the traditional management systems of the Salween, including the fish Nya Moo, Nya Ter Taw, and Nya Pla (Neolissochilus sp.). For instance, a reddish species of Nya P’tay is regarded as the king of all fish and killing them, we believe, will result in the extinction of fish species and water scarcity and drought. The Salween is home to a diversity of turtles greater than any other river in the world, and we regard a number of them as sacred.

Mainstream dams will also affect river-based sites considered sacred, such as the Thawthi Kho watershed area, threatening the effective protected status of waterbodies rich in biodiversity such as spring-fed pools, mud beds, waterfalls, rapids and islands. If these sacred natural sites run dry or flood in unusual ways, people will believe that the spirits may become angry and cause accidents and illness in nearby communities, or leave the river altogether, stripping these sites of protection.

Third, if our Salween is fragmented by dams, this will disrupt the flow, interconnection and relationship between all beings that depended on it. This upsets the balance in the river, which in turn upsets the balance between the river, humans and more-than-humans. It is the wholeness of the river – connecting beginning to end; past to present; humans to more-than-humans – that makes her the backbone of our belief systems. This gives her a sacred meaning as an indivisible living entity that supports our Indigenous cosmos.

Recognition and action for Indigenous ontologies

We draw hope from recent developments that have seen the central importance of free-flowing rivers in Indigenous ontologies being increasingly recognised, including by parties to the CBD. In 2017, New Zealand acknowledged the sacred status of the Whanganui River in Maori ontology by giving the river legal personhood. Through this act, New Zealand recognised the Whanganui as “an indivisible and living whole, comprising the Whanganui River from the mountains to the sea, incorporating its tributaries and all its physical and metaphysical elements”. New Zealand acknowledged “the enduring concept of Te Awa Tupua – the inseparability of the people and the River” thereby echoing the ancient Maori proverb: “The Great River flows from the mountains to the sea. I am the River and the River is me.”

According to the New Zealand attorney general in charge of the process, their most difficult challenge was getting the country’s European-descendant majority “to see the world through Maori eyes”. While rivers have since been recognised as living entities in CBD member countries such as EcuadorBangladesh and Canada, many other CBD members are still severing the flow of rivers sacred to Indigenous Peoples. In our own country, Myanmar, the military junta recently announced a fresh push to dam the Salween River.

Participants at the COP15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity should move beyond previous calls for ‘participation by’ and ‘consultation with’ Indigenous Peoples to recognise ontological diversity in order to safeguard biodiversity in Indigenous territories. To play an effective role in addressing the biodiversity crisis, we have to be able to sustain our own ‘Ecological Civilisation’.

Parties to the CBD should consider legislation that recognises legal personhood and rights of rivers considered sacred to Indigenous Peoples and incorporate Rights of Nature into the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. Parties should also translate the Akwé: Kon Guidelines into their national laws so that these guidelines become more relevant. Through enabling more research into Indigenous ontologies and their spiritual relationship with rivers, the CBD Secretariat should help to foster a better understanding of who a river is in the ontology of Indigenous Peoples.

Above all, parties to the CBD should, in their effort to mainstream biodiversity in the energy sector, commit to excluding large-scale hydropower as an energy option for rivers such as the Salween which are sacred and culturally significant to Indigenous Peoples.

Banner image: Christophe95 – Own work (CC BY-SA 4.0)

‘Momentous’ Moratorium on Deep Sea Mining Adopted at Global Biodiversity Summit

‘Momentous’ Moratorium on Deep Sea Mining Adopted at Global Biodiversity Summit

World congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) calling for reforms to the International Seabed Authority (ISA).
“Deep seabed mining is an avoidable environmental disaster,” said one expert on global ocean policy.

Featured image: A pair of fish swim near the ocean floor off the coast of Mauritius. A motion calling for an end to deep sea mining of minerals was adopted at the world congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature this week. (Photo: Roman Furrer/Flickr/cc)

This article originally appeared in CommonDreams.

By JULIA CONLEY


A vote overwhelmingly in favor of placing a moratorium on deep sea mineral mining at a global biodiversity summit this week has put urgent pressure on the International Seabed Authority to strictly regulate the practice.

The vast majority of governments, NGOs, and civil society groups voted in favor of the moratorium at the world congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on Wednesday, after several conservation groups lobbied in favor of the measure.

“Member countries of the ISA, including France which hosted this Congress, need to wake up and act on behalf of civil society and the environment now, and take action in support of a moratorium.”
—Matthew Gianni, Deep Sea Conservation Coalition

Eighty-one government and government agencies voted for the moratorium, while 18 opposed it and 28, including the United Kingdom, abstained from voting. Among NGOs and other organizations, 577 supported the motion while fewer than three dozen opposed it or abstained.

Deep sea mining for deposits of copper, nickel, lithium, and other metals can lead to the swift loss of entire species that live only on the ocean floor, as well as disturbing ecosystems and food sources and putting marine life at risk for toxic spills and leaks.

Fauna and Flora International, which sponsored the moratorium along with other groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council and Synchronicity Earth, called the vote “a momentous outcome for ocean conservation.”

The motion called for a moratorium on mining for minerals and metals near the ocean floor until environmental impact assessments are completed and stakeholders can ensure the protection of marine life, as well as calling for reforms to the International Seabed Authority (ISA)—the regulatory body made up of 167 nations and the European Union, tasked with overseeing “all mineral-related activities in the international seabed area for the benefit of mankind as a whole.”

In June, a two-year deadline was set for the ISA to begin licensing commercial deep sea mining and to finalize regulations for the industry by 2023.
“Member countries of the ISA, including France which hosted this Congress, need to wake up and act on behalf of civil society and the environment now, and take action in support of a moratorium,” said Matthew Gianni, co-founder of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, in a statement.

The World Wide Fund for Nature, another cosponsor of the motion, called on the ISA to reject the deep sea mining industry’s claims that mining for metals on the ocean floor is a partial solution to the climate crisis.

“The pro-deep seabed mining lobby is… selling a story that companies need deep seabed minerals in order to produce electric cars, batteries and other items that reduce carbon emissions,” said Jessica Battle, a senior expert on global ocean policy and governance at the organization. “Deep seabed mining is an avoidable environmental disaster. We can decarbonize through innovation, redesigning, reducing, reusing, and recycling.”

Pippa Howard of Fauna and Flora International wrote ahead of the IUCN summit that “we need to shatter the myth that deep seabed mining is the solution to the climate crisis.”

“Far from being the answer to our dreams, deep seabed mining could well turn out to be the stuff of nightmares,” she wrote. “Deep seabed mining—at least as it is currently conceived—would be an utterly irresponsible and short-sighted idea. In the absence of any suitable mitigation techniques… deep-sea mining should be avoided entirely until that situation changes.”

Rivers Are Key to Restoring the World’s Biodiversity

Rivers Are Key to Restoring the World’s Biodiversity

Biodiversity is plummeting, but restoring rivers could quickly reverse this disastrous trend.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.


By Alessandra Korap Munduruku, Darryl Knudsen and Irikefe V. Dafe

In October 2021, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will meet in China to adopt a new post-2020 global biodiversity framework to reverse biodiversity loss and its impacts on ecosystems, species and people. The conference is being held during a moment of great urgency: According to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we now have less than 10 years to halve our greenhouse gas emissions to stave off catastrophic climate change. At the same time, climate change is exacerbating the accelerating biodiversity crisis. Half of the planet’s species may face extinction by the end of this century.

And tragically, according to a UN report, “the world has failed to meet a single target to stem the destruction of wildlife and life-sustaining ecosystems in the last decade.”

It’s time to end that legacy of failure and seize the opportunities before us to correct the past mistakes, manage the present challenges and meet the future challenges that the environment is likely to face. But if we’re going to protect biodiversity and simultaneously tackle the climate crisis, we must protect rivers and freshwater ecosystems. And we must defend the rights of communities whose livelihoods depend on them, and who serve as their stewards and defenders. By doing so, we will improve food security for the hundreds of millions of people who rely on freshwater ecosystems for sustenance and livelihoods—and give the world’s estimated 140,000 freshwater species a fighting chance at survival.

Rivers Are Heroes of Biodiversity

At the upcoming CBD, countries are expected to reach an agreement to protect 30 percent of the world’s oceans and land by 2030. But which land is protected, as part of this agreement, matters immensely. We cannot protect just any swath of land and consider our work done. Member countries must prioritize protecting regions where biodiversity is highest, or where restoration will bring the greatest net benefits. Rivers, which support an extraordinary number of species, must be a priority zone for protection and restoration.

Rivers are unsung heroes of biodiversity: Though freshwater covers less than 1 percent of all the water on the planet’s surface, it provides habitats for an astonishing number of species. Rivers are vital for conserving and sustaining wetlands, which house or provide breeding grounds for around 40 percent of Earth’s species. That is a staggering amount of life in a very small geographic area—and those figures don’t account for all the adjacent forests and other ecosystems, as well as people’s livelihoods that rely on rivers.

Reversing the Decline of Rivers and Freshwater Ecosystems

Freshwater ecosystems have suffered from some of the most rapid declines in the last four decades. A global study conducted by the World Wildlife Fund, “Living Planet Report 2020,” states that populations of global freshwater species have declined by 84 percent, “equivalent to 4 percent per year since 1970.”

That is, by any measure, a catastrophe. Yet mainstream development models, water management policies and conservation and protected area policies continue to ignore the integrity of freshwater ecosystems and the livelihoods of communities that depend on them.

As a result of these misguided policies, fisheries that sustain millions of people are collapsing. Freshwater is increasingly becoming degraded, and riverbank farming is suffering as a result of this. Additionally, we’re seeing Indigenous peoples, who have long been careful and successful stewards of their lands and waters, face increasing threats to their autonomy and well-being. The loss of biodiversity, and the attendant degradation of precious freshwater, directly impacts food and water security and livelihoods.

But this catastrophe also suggests that by prioritizing river protection as part of that 30 percent goal, the global community could slow down and begin to reverse some of the most egregious losses of biodiversity. We have an incredible opportunity to swiftly reverse significant environmental degradation and support the rebound of myriad species while bolstering food security for millions of people. But to do that successfully, COP countries must prioritize rivers and river communities.

Here are a few things countries can do immediately to halt the destruction of biodiversity:

1. Immediately Halt Dam-Building in Protected Areas

Dams remain one of the great threats to a river’s health, and particularly to protected areas. More than 500 dams are currently being planned in protected areas around the globe, states Yale Environment 360, while referring to a study published in Conservation Letters. In one of the most egregious examples, Tanzania is moving ahead with plans to construct the Stiegler’s Gorge dam in the Selous Game Reserve—which has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1982 and an iconic refuge for wildlife. In terms of protecting biodiversity, canceling dams like these is low-hanging fruit if the idea of a “protected area” is to have any meaning at all.

2. Create Development ‘No-Go’ Zones on the World’s Most Biodiverse Rivers

Freshwater ecosystems face myriad threats from extractive industries like mining and petroleum as well as agribusiness and cattle ranching, overfishing, industrialization of waterways and urban industrial pollution. Investors, financiers, governments and CBD signatories must put an immediate halt to destructive development in biodiversity hotspots, legally protect the most biodiverse rivers from development, and decommission the planet’s most lethal dams.

3. Pass Strong Water Protection Policies

Most policymakers and decision-makers—and even some conservation organizations—don’t fully understand how freshwater ecosystems and the hydrological cycle function, and how intimately tied they are to the health of the terrestrial ecosystems they want to protect. Rivers and freshwater ecosystems urgently need robust protections, including policies that permanently protect freshwater and the rights of communities that depend on them. In some places, this may go as far as granting rivers the rights of personhood. A growing global Rights of Nature and Rights of Rivers movement is beginning to tackle just this.

4. Respect the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Other Traditional Communities

Indigenous peoples protect “about 80 percent of the global biodiversity,” according to an article by National Geographic, even though they make up just 5 percent of the world’s population. These are the world’s frontline defenders of water and biodiversity; we owe them an enormous debt. More importantly, they deserve protection. It’s imperative governments respect Indigenous people’s territorial rights, as well as their right to self-determination and free, prior and informed consent regarding projects that affect their waters and livelihoods.

Many Indigenous communities like the Munduruku in the Amazon are fighting to defend their territories, rivers and culture. Threats to fishing and livelihoods from destructive dams, gold mining pollution and industrial facilities can be constant in the Tapajós River Basin in the Amazon and many other Indigenous territories.

5. Elevate Women Leaders

In many cultures, women are traditionally the stewards of freshwater, but they are excluded from the decision-making processes. In response, they have become leaders in movements to protect rivers and freshwater ecosystems around the globe. From the Teesta River in India to the Brazilian Amazon, women are leading a burgeoning river rights movement. A demand to include women’s voices in policy, governments and localities will ensure better decisions in governing shared waters.

The pursuit of perpetual unchecked economic growth with little regard for human rights or ecosystem health has led our planet to a state of crisis. Floods, wildfires, climate refugees and biodiversity collapse are no longer hallmarks of a distant future: They are here. In this new era, we must abandon rampant economic growth as a metric of success and instead prioritize equity and well-being.

Free-flowing rivers are a critical safety net that supports our existence. To reverse the biodiversity crisis, we must follow the lead of Indigenous groups, elevate women’s leadership, grant rights to rivers, radically reduce dam-building and address other key threats to freshwater.

What we agree to do over the next decade will determine our and the next generations’ fate. We are the natural world. Its destruction is our destruction. The power to halt this destruction lies in our hands; we only have to use it.


Alessandra Korap Munduruku is a Munduruku Indigenous woman leader from Indigenous Reserve Praia do Índio in the Brazilian Amazon. She is a member of Pariri, a local Munduruku association, as well as the Munduruku Wakoborûn Women’s Association. In 2020, Alessandra won the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award for her work defending the culture, livelihoods and rights of Indigenous peoples in Brazil.

Darryl Knudsen is the executive director of International Rivers. He has 20 years’ experience channeling the power of civil society movements to create enduring, positive change toward social and environmental justice for the underrepresented. Darryl holds a master’s degree from Columbia University and a BA from Dartmouth College.

Irikefe V. Dafe has advocated for river protections in Nigeria and throughout Africa for three decades. Much of his work has focused on protecting the River Ethiope and the rights of communities who rely upon the river for food, water and their livelihoods. He is a lead organizer of the First National Dialogue on Rights of Nature in Nigeria. He is also the founder and CEO of River Ethiope Trust Foundation and an expert member of the UN Harmony with Nature Initiative.

Massive palm oil plantation in Cameroon endangering “biodiversity hotspot”, dispossessing locals

By Agence France-Presse

A large palm oil plantation project in development in Cameroon since 2010 will put livelihoods and ecosystems in peril if allowed to continue, a US-based think-tank warned Wednesday.

“With the loss of livelihoods by thousands of Cameroonians on the line and critical and unique ecosystems in peril, this project must be stopped,” the Oakland Institute said in a report Wednesday.

Authoured in collaboration with Greenpeace International, the report said the project from SG Sustainable Oils Cameroon (SGSOC) was a case of massive deforestation disguised as a sustainable development project.

In 2009, Cameroon granted SGSOC, a subsidiary of US firm Herakles Farms, over 73,000 hectares (180,000 acres) of land in the country’s southwest to develop the plantation and refinery through a 99-year land lease.

But much of the project area is in a “biodiversity hotspot” that “serves as a vital corridor between five different protected areas,” the institute said.

It added that many locals fear the plantation would “restrict their access to lands held by their ancestors for generations” or that they would “lose land for farming as well as access to critical natural resources and forest products.”

In April, “11 of the world’s top scientists issued an open letter urging the Cameroonian government to stop the project that they say will threaten some of Africa’s most important protected areas,” the think-tank said.

But Bruce Wrobel, CEO of Herakles Farms, told the institute that “our project, should it proceed, will be a big project with big impacts — environmentally and socially.”

“I couldn’t be more convinced that this will be an amazingly positive story for the people within our impact area,” he was quoted saying in the report.

From Agence France-Presse: