A spatial overview of the global importance of Indigenous lands for conservation, Garnett et al. 2018

Compendium Volume 3 Number 2 January 2020

Indigenous people make up less than 5% of the global population, but their lands encompass 37% of the planet’s remaining natural lands and (partially overlapping with natural lands) 40% of Earth’s protected area, much of this in sparsely inhabited places. Like everyone, indigenous people have multiple interests (economic, political, cultural), which don’t necessarily always support conservation interests. However, “Indigenous Peoples often express deep spiritual and cultural ties to their land and contend that local ecosystems reflect millennia of their stewardship” [Garnett 2018: 369]. Indeed, “Countless Indigenous management institutions have already proven to be remarkably persistent and resilient, suggesting that such governance forms can shape sustainable human landscape relationships in many places” [Garnett 2018: 370].

Thus, the authors argue for indigenous voices to be prominent in land-use decision-making processes at global and local levels. “There is already good evidence that recognition of the practices, institutions and rights of Indigenous Peoples in global environmental governance is essential if we are to develop and achieve the next generation of global biodiversity targets” [Garnett 2018: 372].

In total, Indigenous Peoples influence land management across at least 28.1% of the land area.

About 7.8 million km2 (20.7%) of Indigenous Peoples’ lands are within protected areas, encompassing at least 40% of the global protected area with the proportion of Indigenous land in protected areas significantly higher than the proportion of other lands that are protected. The relationship between Indigenous Peoples and conserved areas varies in nature. While some protected areas (as defined by states and/or the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)) are under the governance of Indigenous Peoples themselves, others are governed by state authorities with varying degrees of respect for the presence of Indigenous Peoples. This respect ranges from collaborative governance where Indigenous Peoples are consulted on decisions, to de facto management and use of protected areas by Indigenous Peoples despite threats of eviction [Garnett 2018: 370].

Around half of the global terrestrial environment can be classified as human-dominated. Using this as a measure of human influence, we estimated that Indigenous Peoples’ lands account for 37% of all remaining natural lands across the Earth. A higher proportion (67%) of Indigenous Peoples’ lands was classified as natural compared with 44% of other lands. Even though no global data are available on other anthropogenic pressures such as grazing, burning, hunting or fishing, the drivers assessed by the Human Footprint (which range from roads, access, population density and different agricultural land use activity) are suitable surrogates. Consistent with this, most parts of the planet managed and/or owned by Indigenous Peoples have low intensity land uses: less than 3.8 million km2 (10.2%) of the world’s urban areas, villages and non-remote croplands are on Indigenous Peoples’ lands, whereas, in contrast, they encompass 24.9 million km2 (65.7%) of the remotest and least inhabited anthromes. Many of these remote Indigenous areas are nevertheless under pressure from intensive development [Garnett 2018: 370].

Garnett, Stephen T., et al., 2018, A spatial overview of the global importance of indigenous lands for conservation, Nature Sustainability 1.

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