Skip to Main Navigation
FEATURE STORYAugust 9, 2023

Empowering Indigenous Peoples to Protect Forests

Fiji’s Emalu Tribal Chief, Lemeki Toutou

Fiji’s Emalu Tribal Chief, Lemeki Toutou.

Credit: FCPF/World Bank


  • 36% of the world’s remaining intact forests are on Indigenous Peoples’ lands.
  • $15 million in grants helped Indigenous Peoples in 37 countries boost their participation in forest management.
  • 50 million people benefited from capacity building that encouraged dialogue on forests between Indigenous Peoples and governments.

For Fiji’s Emalu people, the cicada is part of the biodiversity of the forest and a symbol of the tribe. The insect, known locally as Nanai, spends much of its life dormant in trees, emerging in eight-year cycles. It is a “very precious living creature to my people,” says Tribal Chief Lemeki Toutou. “It’s also a staple food for our community.”

The Emalu are among the Indigenous Peoples around the world playing a key role in the conservation of forests and biodiversity. On August 9, the United Nations International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples highlights the need to protect their rights, celebrate their unique and rich cultures, and recognize their achievements and contributions to preserving the world’s precious forest ecosystems.

About 36% of remaining intact forests are on Indigenous Peoples’ lands. Indigenous communities safeguard 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity and forests on their land are better maintained, with a higher preserved biodiversity than those on non-Indigenous lands.

Indigenous stewardship of the forest has become increasingly critical amid accelerating forest loss and damage. It’s estimated that deforestation and degradation cause around 10% of global warming.

Yet Indigenous Peoples have often struggled to be heard.

In 2007, Indigenous Peoples organizations protested at the Conference of Parties in Bali against REDD+, an initiative to reduce deforestation and forest degradation created through international negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Indigenous Peoples felt that they did not have enough information on REDD+. They were worried it could disrupt their lives, affect their land rights, and disturb their forest ecosystems.  

The following year, the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) was set up to advance REDD+. After listening to feedback from Indigenous Peoples (IPs) and local communities (LCs), the FCPF launched its Capacity Building Program for Indigenous Peoples and Civil Society in 2009 to engage these communities in REDD+ programs.  


Bringing Indigenous Peoples Into Forest Discussions

Over the next 13 years, the program benefited more than 50 million people and brought IPs to the table for discussions that often directly impacted their land and livelihoods. It helped build recognition of IPs and LCs organizations in global, regional, and national decision-making spaces. The FCPF extended more than US$15 million in grants to more than 90 organizations in 37 countries that helped advance IPs’ access to, and decision-making over, the management of forest ecosystems and the use of results-based finance from forest conservation efforts.

Joseph Ole Simel, Executive Director of the Indigenous Peoples’ organization MPIDO in Kenya, says the program “empowered IPs and LCs participation in diverse fora and processes, not as observers but active participants who are engaging from an informed point of view.

The integration of Indigenous knowledge into various REDD+ processes enhanced the co-production of knowledge and encouraged the inter-generational transfer of the same,” said Simel.

In this episode of Get REDDy, we hear about the traditional knowledge that Indigenous Peoples possess that allows the forest to flourish while providing nutrition, medicine, and materials to communities.


Enabling Indigenous Peoples’ Direct Access to Climate Finance

Today, many Indigenous organizations see REDD+ projects as one of the only proven avenues available to their communities to access the finance required to not only conserve and protect their environments but also to drive sustainable development shaped by their traditions and values.

The FCPF Carbon Fund committed more than US$700 million for emission reductions programs in 15 countries that will be allocated and used according to benefit-sharing plans.

The FCPF Carbon Fund committed more than US$700 million for emission reductions programs in 15 countries that will be allocated and used according to benefit-sharing plans.


Today, many of the Capacity Building Program grantees continue their work to ensure communities are actively engaged in implementing REDD+ plans and have access to the benefits. For example, Madagascar’s Gasy Youth Up, a sub-grantee of the Capacity Building Program, has been nominated by the government to deliver REDD+ training at the community level.

With the capacity building program coming to an end, the World Bank launched a new multi-donor trust fund in 2020 --Enabling Access to Benefits while Lowering Emissions (EnABLE). EnABLE supports social inclusion and gender equality across the World Bank’s emission reductions programs. It also supports the inclusion of IPs, LCs, and other disadvantaged communities in FCPF programs. EnABLE programs are implemented by local civil society organizations to bolster avenues for channeling climate finance directly to communities.

In addition, the Scaling Climate Action by Lowering Emissions (SCALE) fund, with EnABLE support, will build on the FCPF and similar initiatives to enhance direct access of IPs and LCs to climate finance.

In Fiji and around the world, the preservation of forests and biodiversity will benefit all. It is particularly critical for young people and future generations, says Sele Tagivuni of the Grace Trifam Ministry in Fiji, a grantee of the Capacity Building Program. “This is very important for their lives moving forward ... There is no other generation to do this than us.”


    loader image


    loader image