September 17th, 2019
The Amazon rainforest, on which we depend for food, medicine, and the wellbeing of our families, is engulfed in flames. For over a month now, with a great deal of pain, we’ve watched our homes burn. And thanks to the media, you have too.
But we want you to understand that these fires are not the enemy. They are just the latest in a long history of destruction and violence that we Indigenous Peoples have fought against to protect our ancestral lands. Greed and the global hunger for beef and soy, and the rising desire for gold and for minerals that power your cellphones and electric cars fuel the loss of our forest homes and the poisoning of our rivers.
The real perpetrators behind these fires sit in the air-conditioned offices of government buildings such as this one—though they rule the world, they seem frozen in time and unable or unwilling to act. Sensing fewer limits on what they are allowed to do in the Amazon and other tropical regions, our presidents encourage the clearing of forests in order to boost trade in raw materials with you and other countries like yours.
Globally, countries are starting to take steps in the right direction. Leaders have signed important international agreements to protect biological diversity and a global convention known as ILO 169, which protects our native communities from activities that would harm us and the environment. The US has also pulled away from the historic Paris Agreement, which committed almost every country worldwide to actions that together would prevent the temperature from rising globally by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
These agreements exist on paper, we need to see them come alive. But we will not succeed without the United States.
The US is the wealthiest on the planet. You also are the single largest emitter of the gasses that fuel climate change and you have amassed a fortune like no other.
Conversely, you have the power to lead the world away from a path that promises the destruction of our common home and all that we hold dear.
As representatives of millions of people from the tropical forest countries of the Amazon, Mesoamerica, Indonesia and the Congo, we ask you to help us stop the threats to the forests that represent the world’s only existing large-scale solution to fighting climate change.
By protecting us and the rights and livelihoods of indigenous and local communities, you will support our efforts to heal the wounds of this earth we have honored and nurtured, sometimes for millennia.
Right now, your country is a part of the problem. Right now, the planet is at a tipping point and it is in your hands to lead the community of nations into caring for our common home.
You have the power to embrace key international agreements and to lead on environmental regulation. You have the power to contribute cutting-edge technology and innovation to the fight against climate change, and you have the power to stand by us, the indigenous and local communities that protect a third of the world’s tropical forests.
We’ve done our part. Earlier this year, in a landmark report, the UN recognized that securing our rights is a critical solution to the climate crisis and to limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees by 2030. When the rights to our land are respected, we succeed above everyone else, in the conservation and protection of our forests.
But when we lack strong rights, and when our forests die, so do we. We also lose our lives when we defend our land and the environment from invasion by industries like mining, logging and agribusiness.
We stand here in Washington with Greta Thunberg and we will join her on Friday in New York on a march with thousands of young climate activists to demand action. We agree that, “Enough is enough!”
We need real change. And we need for members of the United States Congress to awaken to the existing consequences of climate inaction. Climate change is not far away in time or place. It is here today.
The reality on the ground is stark, and deforestation is rampant, yet we are hopeful.
The youth of today, including our very own Artemisa Xakriabá, will lead us all tomorrow.
Working together, we represent an untapped and affordable solution to address the crisis we are experiencing today. We can now use science to prove our critical role as guardians of the world’s lands and forests.
We ask that you capitalize on the solution we offer. Hold your government, the international community, and the private sector accountable. Demand they adhere to the highest level of international law, standards, and best practices in all actions and investments in rural landscapes to protect our mother earth.
It is up to all of us to do what we can to stop the destruction of tropical forests– the only existing, affordable solution to fighting climate change.
General Coordinator of the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities.
DEMANDS OF THE GUARDIANS OF THE FOREST
1. Significantly scale up recognition of our land and forest rights by increasing support to indigenous, community, and civil society organizations to implement existing laws and advance legislation that recognizes rights. This includes recognition of the customary rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities to govern their lands.
2. Secure our right to free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) as part of a continuous cycle of engagement for any activities taking place on or affecting our customary lands, territories, and resources.
3. Prioritize bilateral and multilateral investments in indigenous- and community-led initiatives to reduce emissions from deforestation, strengthen community-based conservation and restoration efforts, and improve sustainable land use. Find new ways to ensure international finance for climate mitigation and adaptation reaches the communities on the ground who can put it to best use.
4. End the criminalization and persecution of Indigenous Peoples and local communities defending their lands, forests, and natural resources.
5. Support existing partnerships and develop partnerships that allow our traditional knowledge and practical experiences with land and forest management to inform current and future efforts to combat climate change.
6. Recognize and support indigenous and community women’s rights to own, manage and control land, forests and resources which are bases for their livelihoods, community well-being and food security.