Yet policy is now beginning to shift in recognition of the role they can play in protecting the land. A global study published in the scientific journal Nature Sustainability in 2021 found that across the tropics, Indigenous lands had 20 percent less deforestation than nonprotected areas. Another analysis, from 2016 by the nonprofit World Resources Institute, shows deforestation rates inside lands controlled by Indigenous communities in Bolivia, Brazil and Colombia were two to three times lower than outside these areas.
“This is primarily because their livelihoods and worldviews are more compatible with seeing humans as living in and with nature rather than converting it to other uses,” said Anne Larson of the Center for International Forestry Research, a global nonprofit.
At the U.N. Climate Change Conference in 2021, also known as COP26, world leaders pledged $1.7 billion of funding for these communities, calling them “guardians of forests.”