Officially, today is “Columbus Day”, a commemoration of the European arrival in the Americas that brought fabulous wealth to Western nations, dragged Europe out of the economic and cultural stupor of the Medieval period, and planted the seeds of a global superpower in the United States.
But call it “Indigenous People’s Day”, and the second week of October marks a resilient history for the millions of indigenous people who bore the scarcely recognized cost of colonial glory with their lives, freedom, and culture traditions.
The climate movement hasn’t been exempt from that historical precedent, and this week another data point proved it.
A study found that a mere 17% of environmental protection funds designated for indigenous groups went directly to those communities, with the rest going to multi-national organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and the Wildlife Conservation Society.
That disconnect leaves a lot of money in the hands of middlemen far removed from indigenous communities that reduce funds to a trickle and can even have disastrous, counterproductive consequences.
One grisly example came to light this year. A $40 million grant given to Jeff Bezos’ Earth Fund for forest protection in the Congo Basin led to a murderous land removal campaign that targeted the indigenous Batwa community. Congolese military and police forces are reported to have killed at least 20 people and raped 15 Batwa women in the name of “forest protection”, which security forces interpreted as carte blanche to persecute isolated communities.
It's an extreme case that points to what indigenous groups see as a fundamental flaw in global conservation funding: too few connections to the people that need help the most.
Now these groups are taking the lead. Networks like the Fundo Podáali in Brazil put leaders of indigenous communities in charge of funds and projects meant to help their communities directly. These projects have mounted effective campaigns, but still pale against a state-sponsored deforestation drives across the world.
That’s why the international climate finance system will be under a microscope at COP27, as frontline communities facing the impacts of climate change are growing louder in their demands for financial assistance.
Perhaps with those voices in mind, this week global institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB) saw the beginnings of change.
One such example is Rwanda, which received $310 million in loans from a new climate finance mechanism through the International Monetary Fund (IMF) this week.
The Resilience and Sustainability Trust will help Rwanda lower the cost of financing its transition and adaptation measures, which the Rwandan government expects will cost $11 billion through 2030.
The loan is designed to jumpstart international investment in Rwanda and serve as a market signal to green bond lenders and development partners. The Rwandan government expects that $7 billion of its transition needs will have to come from outside sources.
Experts often point to Rwanda as a critical case study in how (or whether) developing countries can achieve economic growth on a more sustainable path than the ones taken by Western nations in the 20th century.
A World Bank study from earlier this year pointed to specific needs for the Rwandan transition. One of the fast-growing economies in Africa is still heavily reliant on diesel generators to power its mining sector and rarely employs waste heat recovery at its brick and clinker factories.
National net-zero plans are a dime a dozen these days, but this week Australia announced a plan to zero out species extinctions in the next ten years.
The project comes in response to an extensive 5-year study commissioned by the Australian government that gauged exactly how much ecological damage has been done by extreme weather in the country. The findings fit a familiar pattern: the situation is more dire than previously estimated.
Species extinction is a crisis around the world, with experts estimating the planet is losing 10,000 times more species than the expected rate under historical conditions.
But even in that context, Australia stands apart. Since European colonization in 1788, no less than 39 species of mammals have disappeared from Australian ecosystems, far outpacing any other country.
The initiative is an ambitious plan that will start small by focusing on just 110 species of the 1,700 threatened species in Australia. Those 110 species were selected for playing an outsized role in supporting their ecosystems. Researchers hope that prioritizing the select group of plants and animals will have a cascading effect on preservation, demanding less human intervention as time goes on.
Australia will also commit to preserving 30% of its landmass, in keeping with a global pact signed last year. At present, 22% of the country is protected, leaving 235,000 square miles to be preserved over the next decade.
The program has skeptics, of course. One conservation science researcher estimates that Australia needs to employ roughly 1.3 billion Australian dollars to protect all its threatened species. That’s a far cry from the 224.5 million AUD currently set aside for conservation, although more is likely coming down the road.
Despite their reservations, Australian conservationists and researchers say the plan is a welcome change after a long decade of negligence and climate denialism from ex-Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s administration.
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