Stronger community forest rights a weapon vs climate change
(The Philippine Star) - June 13, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Government support and legal recognition of indigenous people’s rights have a direct and positive impact on the health of forested areas, aiding in the country’s fight against climate change, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said.

The world’s largest conservation organization believes that the government’s support in championing the rights of indigenous people will help reverse the ill effects of heavy deforestation, citing a study from World Resources Institute (WRI).

“Respecting the rights of our indigenous communities not only protects their source of livelihood, but it works wonders for the health of our natural environment as well,” said WWF-Philippines president and CEO Joel Palma.

According to the WRI, securing the rights of communities, which depend on forests, is an effective climate mitigation policy, helping resolve the problem of worsening deforestation and degradation.

As of 2014, 513 million hectares or one-eighth of the world’s forests have been recorded to hold approximately 37.7 billion tons of carbon, around 29 times the mass of annual carbon footprint of all passenger vehicles on Earth.

Sadly in the Philippines, roughly 47,000 hectares of forest cover are lost annually, leading to a 24-percent reduction of the total area over the past century. This means that 1.2 million hectares of deforested lands need to be rehabilitated to help the Philippines breathe fresher air.

“Deforestation and degradation majorly disrupts the ecosystem supporting human population. Since these people depend on forests for resources, policies promoting and effectively implementing initiatives to restore and protect forest and watershed resources would protect not just trees but more importantly, lives as well and this is ultimately why nature matters,” Palma said.

Communities have an established interest over protecting forested areas. This goes for most Asian indigenous communities that have managed natural resources through their respective customary laws and practices.

The Dumagats in Norzagaray, Bulacan, for instance, patrol the slopes and forests surrounding Ipo watershed, a vital link in the Angat-Umiray-Ipo systems, which is the source of about 98 percent of Metro Manila’s water. Aside from protecting the watershed from illegal activities as “Bantay Gubat” rangers, they also aid in conservation as they go about their patrols, clearing out invasive plants and assisting in the growth of trees and the reforestation of areas previously cleared by illegal activities or natural calamity.

Land rights being basic rights especially in the case of native communities, indigenous people securing the title over their land leads to environmental benefits. These include improving the role of forests as carbon sinks, reducing carbon dioxide emissions and aiding the fight against climate change.

A report by the WRI and the Rights and Resources Initiative showed that among 14 forest-rich countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia, deforestation in areas with strong state support and recognition is lower than those with weak tenure or those with none at all.

In the Brazilian Amazon, which is considered to be the largest intact forest in the world, deforestation from 2000 to 2012 was measured to be 11 times lower in forest communities whose rights are ensured and observed by the government.

Suggested concrete actions aside from policymaking would include providing technical and financial assistance to indigenous forest communities to promote sustainability and delineating boundaries where commercial institutions can utilize natural resources.

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