CCMLCIP Cairns 2012 - Climate Change Mitigation Background

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Home » Thematic Areas » TK & Climate Change » CCMLCIP Cairns 2012 - Climate Change Mitigation Meeting » CCMLCIP Cairns 2012 - Climate Change Mitigation Background

CCMLCIP Cairns 2012 - Climate Change Mitigation Background

Climate Change Mitigation with Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples:
Practices, Lessons Learned and Prospects

26-28 March 2012, Cairns, Australia


United Nations University (UNU), in collaboration with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Australian Government Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD), the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance (NAILSMA) propose a workshop on climate change mitigation with local communities and Indigenous peoples.

Background Information

Noting that Indigenous peoples and marginalized populations will be prominent in several of the chapters of the AR5, IPPC Working Group II and UNU in July 2010 agreed to co-organize a workshop to redress the shortfall of available information on Indigenous and marginalized peoples and their climate change adaptation. This first workshop focused on adaptation and vulnerabilities, and was held in collaboration with Working Group II co-chairs (Vicente Barros and Chris Field), lead authors and the technical support unit of WGII, in Mexico City from 19-21 July 2011.

This second workshop addresses issues relevant to Working Group III, and will bring together lead authors for the AR5, Indigenous peoples and representatives of local communities, and developing country scientists. The workshop will allow for more in-depth focus on the topics and regions for which WGIII is seeking input. An international panel of experts including climate scientists and Indigenous experts will oversee the workshop.

Indigenous Peoples and Forests

According to the World Bank, Indigenous peoples legally own more than 11% of the world's forests and they coincide with areas that hold 80% of the planet’s terrestrial biodiversity.[1] In Asia and the Pacific 25% of forest land is owned by local communities and Indigenous peoples and an additional 3% is designated for use by communities and Indigenous peoples.[2] Papua New Guinea has more than 25.51 million hectares under community or Indigenous ownership [3] and Australia reports approximately 90.78 million hectares (over 11.5%) of land as Indigenous owned. [4] Similarly, in Latin America the forested area owned by local communities and Indigenous peoples is also 25%, and an additional 8% is forested public land designated for community/Indigenous use.[5] Mexico is at the forefront of community forestry with more than 38.71 million hectares owned by communities/Indigenous peoples and in Brazil, community and Indigenous groups own approximately 109.13 million hectares. [6] The “Great Bear Rainforest” in Canada contains 4.7m hectares of forest. The Great Bear Rainforest Agreements provide a governance framework between First Nations and the provincial government that include implementation of new logging regulations based on Ecosystem-based Management. Based on a conservative assumption that after harvesting about 23% of the carbon would remain locked in lumber, logging the area that has been protected by this agreement under regular forest legislation that applies elsewhere in the province would result in about 153 million tonnes of CO2 being released.[7]

The recognition that deforestation, particularly in the tropics, contributes between 19-20% of all annual global emissions led to a collective agreement between UNFCCC member parties that a key climate mitigation priority should be to conserve and enhance forests and other sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases.[8]

UNFCCC member parties introduced REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) as an important mechanism for tackling climate change.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its last assessment (2007) noted that reducing deforestation is the mitigation option with the largest and most immediate carbon stock impact in the short term per hectare and per year globally.  McKinsey & Co calculated that it would cost around €9 tCO2e to generate credits from reducing forest loss and degradation, whereas Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) on power plants would cost around €40-55 tCO2e or solar which would cost around €37 tCO2e. [9]  McKinsey & Co also estimated that reducing forest loss and degradation could contribute as much as 6Gt CO2e per year or 1/3 of the required total global reduction in green house gas emissions between now and 2020.[10]

Over $5bn has been committed to REDD Projects in the last few years and promises of many more billions have been made.  As of September 2011, the main global REDD database had 480 registered projects in 36 countries amounting to $3.35bn.[11] The vast majority of these projects are on Indigenous lands and/or territories.

The scale of the REDD experiment, combined with the lack of relevant experience with REDD+ projects, has meant that projects have confronted considerable problems and delays.  A recent global review of REDD+ projects [12] noted that they face many challenges, including: criteria for sustainable forest management, monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) of GHG emissions, local tenure arrangements, permanence and baselines - issues that can be effectively addressed only if local communities are able to properly participate in the REDD+ projects.  The review also found that despite widespread recognition that local ownership is key for REDD+ success, the scope and intensity of their participation has not always been adequate and often there is lack of clarity about their role in implementation.

Indigenous Peoples and Carbon Sink Enhancement

The importance of agroforestry systems as carbon sinks has recently been recognized as an important component of climate change mitigation. [13] According to recent estimates, of the 960 million hectares of land under cultivation, 10 to 15% are managed by traditional farmers.[14] This global population of small-holder farmers has been identified as the first target for policies to intensify production in mixed systems – effectively increasing carbon density and refilling depleted soil carbon reserves. [15]

In agroforestry systems, carbon can be sequestered from the atmosphere and stored in soils or vegatation. For smallholder agroforestry systems in the tropics, potentially carbon sequestration rates range from 1.5-3.5 ton C ha/year. [16]

In Mexico, Indigenous Mayan communities are introducing timber species within their agricultural systems as crop-tree combinations to enhance carbon storage as part of a pilot carbon project. This project has successfully increased carbon sinks in several Mayan communities while at the same time promoting Indigenous livelihoods. [17] In Eastern Zambia two year rotations of agroforestry species in rural Indigenous communities sequestered 26-78 Mg ha carbon in the soil.  A similar project in southern Malawi sequestered between 123-149 Mg Ha in the 0-200cm. [18] Other projects like this are being implemented in different Indigenous communities around the world with similar results.

Many other traditional agricultural activities that Indigenous peoples rely on lead to high rates of carbon accumulation in the soil – like no-till farming, crop residue retention, growing cover crops in the rotation cycle, and adopting complex farming systems. These technologies are increasingly being recognized as important, cost-effective and equitable terrestrial mitigation solutions that have the potential to enhance existing carbon sinks and to reduce net CO2 emissions. 

Biomass Burning, Fire Management and Indigenous Peoples

Not only are Indigenous/local people owners of forest land but are also key players in groundbreaking ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  In Australia, the Western Arnhem Land Fire Abatement Project (WALFA) uses traditional fire management practices of aboriginal land owners together with modern scientific knowledge to reduce the extent and severity of wildfire in fire-prone tropical savanna, and as a result the overall annual GHG emissions of Australia by around 36% (nitrous oxide and methane expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent). [19] This successful example of Indigenous peoples collaborating with the private sector not only contributes to climate mitigation but also provides important economic, biodiversity and socio-cultural opportunities for many Indigenous communities.

Global fire emissions averaged over 1997-2009 were 2.0PgCyr-1 with contributions from Africa (52%), South America (15%), Equatorial Asia (10%), the boreal region (9%), and Australia (7%).  The largest contributor (44%) to fire carbon emissions were fires in savannas and grasslands. [20] [21]. Almost half of it is considered to be due to savanna burning (both wildfires and management fires), making them the single largest source of pyrogenic emissions. They are also believed to be a significant source of aerosol and trace gas inputs to the global atmosphere. Within the tropics, 42 % of emissions are estimated to come from Africa, 29 % from Asia, 23 % from South America, and 6 % from Oceania. [22] Significant portions of these landscapes are under traditional communal land tenure and the responsibility for controlling the use of fire is often in the hands of local communities. Managing fires more effectively, like in the case of WALFA Project, could provide important mitigation opportunities for many other Indigenous communities as well as providing economic, biodiversity and socio-cultural benefits.  Preliminary research suggests that Indigenous communities in grassland ecosystems of Latin America (e.g., Brazil [23], Bolivia [24], Venezuela [25]), Africa (e.g., South Africa [26], Tanzania [27], Namibia [28], Botswana, Ghana [29], Mozambique [30]) and Asia (e.g., Russia [31]and Kazakhstan) provide the right conditions for developing WALFA-like community-based fire-abatement approaches to generate carbon credits. [32]

Indigenous Peoples, Renewable Energy, and Technology

In addition to being owners of large carbon stocks, Indigenous peoples and local communities are also actively participating in various other important mitigation activities such as producing renewable energies in their territories (wind, hydropower, and geothermal), and resource management projects that reduce pressure on natual resources and enhance local adaptive capacity.

For example, in the United States, Indian tribal lands cover only 5% of land area but have the potential for about 535 billion kWh/year of wind energy which is equivalent to 14% of current U.S. total annual energy generation. [33] In the Arctic, Indigenous peoples have immense renewable energy resources – particularly wind and water – which are being explored as potential energy sources for the US and Canada.[34] And the World Bank is currently financing major initiatives to scale up concentrated solar power in communities in the Middle East and North Africa.[35]

Emissions from developing countries are projected to increase substantially in the coming years. Energy decisions made by Indigenous peoples could therefore have a large influence on efforts to limit total global emissions. Indigenous and local peoples are participating in various important CDM projects.

Agroecosystems and mitigation

Industrial agriculture is responsible for 10-12% of total global anthropogenic GHG emissions and almost a quarter of the continuing increase [36]. Agro-ecological approaches, predominantly used by indigenous smallholders, consume much less energy and release fewer GHGs than industrial agricultural production [37]. Although most vulnerable to climate change impacts [38], such low-carbon and resource-preserving methods of agriculture offer an important pathway toward mitigating climate change. [39] Besides generating fewer direct emissions, agro-ecological management techniques have the potential to sequester more GHGs than industrial agriculture. [40] Such systems are focused on local food production, and they decrease materials used and fluxes involved in the release of GHGs based on crop, livestock and pasture management. Moreover, the agro-ecological approaches improve adaptation capacity of poor rural and indigenous communities by reducing their dependence on expensive fossil fuel-based inputs for agriculture, while increasing levels of production. [41],[42] Shifting cultivation – an example of an agro-ecological system – represents one of the most misunderstood land use systems [43], as it is viewed largely as destructive to forests and soils. However, decades of research on shifting cultivation have generated sufficient evidence to demonstrate that it is not a major source of deforestation; it enables greater carbon sequestration than other forms of land use; and it enhances biodiversity and is crucial for in-situ conservation of crop genetic resources [44].In addition, shifting cultivation results in a mosaic of differently aged, growing forests with higher probability of being a landscape level ‘carbon bank,’ compared to mature forest landscapes and therefore offers opportunities for climate change mitigation approaches [45]. Hence, recognition for indigenous peoples’ land use practices also offers opportunities to seek solutions for climate change mitigation [46].

Opportunities and Barriers

Despite the identification of the significant contribution of Indigenous/local peoples and Indigenous  territories/natural resources to mitigating climate change, there is little consensus about how to properly include Indigenous/local peoples in the development of appropriate, efficient and effective climate mitigation policies. A number of mitigation projects have, in fact, proven detrimental to Indigenous communities, resulting in cultural and environmental destruction, forced migration and resettlement, violence and resource competition, and human rights violations. [47]  However, institutional arrangements that incorporate local knowledge and decentralized decision-making (i.e. greater rule-making autonomy at local level) have been shown to be associated with high carbon storage and livelihood benefits [48] and can be highlighted as examples of successful governance.

Related Links



[1]Sobrevila, M. (2008). The Role of Indigenous Peoples in Biodiversity Conservation: The Natural and Often Forgotten Partners. Washington DC: The World Bank.

[2]Larson, A. et al. (Eds.)(2010). Forests for Peoples: Community Rights and Forest Tenure Reform. London: Earthscan.

[3]RRI (2009). Tropical Forest Tenure Assessment: Trends, Challenges and Opportunities. Washington DC and Yokohama: Rights and Resources Initiative and International Tropical Timber Organization. 

[4]Australian Natural Resources Atlas (2010). Land Use Patterns in Australia. Canberra: Australian Government. 

[5]Larson, A. et al. (Eds.)(2010). Forests for Peoples: Community Rights and Forest Tenure Reform. London: Earthscan.

[6]RRI (2009). Tropical Forest Tenure Assessment: Trends, Challenges and Opportunities. Washington DC and Yokohama: Rights and Resources Initiative and International Tropical Timber Organization. 

[7]Holt, R. F. (2009). Ecosystem-based mangement in the Great Bear Rainforest: Defense for Climate and Species. Vancouver: ForestEthics.

[8]UNFCCC Article 4.1 (d)

[9]McKinsey & Company (2009). Pathways to a Low-Carbon Economy: Version 2 of the Global Greenhouse Gas Abatement Cost Curve.


[11]REDD+ Database. Accessed 22 September 2011.

[12]Simula, Markku (2011). Analysis of REDD+ Financing Gaps and Overlaps.

[13]Nair, PKR, Kumar B.M, Nair, V. (2009). Agroforestry as a strategy for carbon sequestration. Journal of Plant Nutrition and Soil Science. 172:10-23.

[14]Altieri, Miguel (2008). Small Farms as a Planetary Ecological Asset: five key reasons why we should support the revitalisation of small farms in the global south. Third World Network: Malaysia.

[15]Obsertein, M., Bottcher, H., and Yamagata, Y. (2010). Terrestrail ecosystem management for climate change mitigation. In Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. 2: 271-276.

[16]Montagnini, F and PKR Nair (2004). Carbon sequestration: an unexploited environmental benefit of agroforest systems. In Agroforestry Systems. 61: 281-295.

[17]Nelso, Kristen and H.J de Jon, Ben (2003). Making global initiatives local realities: carbon mitigation projects in Chiapas, Mexico.  In Global Environmental Change. 13: 19-30.

[18]Makumba, W., F.K Akinnifesi, B. Janssen and O. Oenema (2006). Long-term impact of a Gliricidia-maize intercropping system on carbon sequestration in southern Malawi.  In Agricultural Ecosystems and the Environment. 118:237-243

[19]Whitehead Peter J et al 2008. The management of climate change through prescribed savanna burning: emerging contributions pf indigenous people in northern Australia. Public Admin. Dev. 28, 374-385 (2008).

[20]Van der Werf, G.R. et al (2010). Global fire emissions and the contribution of deforestation, savanna, forest, agricultural and peat fires (1997-2009). In Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussions. 10: 16153-16230

[21]Koppmann, R et al, 2005. A review of biomass burning emissions, part I: gaseous emissions of carbon monoxide, methane, volatile organic compounds, and nitrogen containing compounds. Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss. 5:10455-10516.

[22]FAO, 2009. Grasslands: Enabling their Potential to Contribute to Greenhouse Gas Mitigation.

[23]Mistry, J. et al, 2005. Indigenous Fire Management in the Cerrado of Brazil: The case of Kraho of Tocantins. Pp. 365-386. Human Ecology. Vol 33. No. 3.

Pivello, V. 2011. The Use of Fire in the Cerrado and Amazonian rainforests of Brazil: Past and Present. Pp: 24-35. Fire Ecology. Volume 7, Issue 1.

[24]McDaniel, et al, 2005. Smokey Tapir: Traditional Fire Knowledge and Fire Prevention Campaigns in Lowland Bolivia. Pp 921-930. Society and Natural Resources. Vol. 18.

[25]Bilbao, B. 2010. Indigenous Use of Fire and Forest Loss in Canaima National Park, Venezuela. Pp: 663-673. Human Ecology.

[26]Dr. Nigel Crawhall, Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC). Pers. Com.

[27]Butz, R. 2009. Traditional Fire Management: Historical Fire Regimes and Land Use Change in Pastoral East Africa. Pp:442-450. International journal of Wildland Fire.. Vol. 18.

[28]Dr Margaret Jacobson, Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC). Pers. Com.

[29]Appiah, M. et. Al. 2010. Forest and Agrosystems Fire Management in Ghana. Pp 551-570. Mitig. Adapt. Strateg. Glob Change.

[30]Shaffer, L. 2010.  Indigenous Fire Use to Manage Savanna Landscapes in Southern Mozambique. Pp: 43-58 in Fire Ecology. Vol/ 6, Issue 2.

[31]UNDP-GEF. 2009. Improving the Coverage and Management Efficiency of Protected Areas in the Steppe Biome of Russia. A Project Document.

[32]Sejo, F., et al. 2011. Introduction. Pp: 1-4. Fire Ecology. Volume 7, Issue 1.

[33]MacCourt, D. et al. (2010). A Renewable Energy Development in Indian Country: A Handbook for Tribes. Washington DC: National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy.

[34]Petterson, Maria. (2009). Mitigation Possibilities in the Energy Sector – An Arctic Perspective. In Environment and Policy. 50(3): 303-326.

[35]Shah, Jitendra (2010). Clean Technology Fund. Washington DC: World Bank.


[37]Lin, B., et al. 2011. Effects of industrial agriculture on climate change and the mitigation potential of small-scale agro-ecological farms. CAB Reviews: Perspectives in Agriculture, Veterinary Science, Nutrition and Natural Resources. 2011 6, 020: 1-18


[39]Reid, H., and K. Swiderska. 2008. Biodiversity, climate change and poverty: exploring the links. IIED Briefing Paper.

[40] Schaffnit-Chatterjee, C. 2011. Mitigating climate change through agriculture: An untapped potential. Deutsche Bank Research.

[42] Fox J, Castella J-C, Ziegler AD. 2011. Swidden, Rubber and Carbon: Can REDD+ work for people and the environment in Montane Mainland Southeast Asia? CCAFS Working Paper no. 9. CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). Copenhagen, Denmark. Available online at:

[43] Fox, Jefferson 2009. Policies, Political-Economy, and Swidden in Southeast Asia. Human Ecology 37:305–322

[44] IWGIA. 2009. Shifting Cultivation and Climate Change. UNFCCC Intersessional Meeting, Bangkok 2009 Briefing Paper.

[45] Mertz, O. 2009 Trends in shifting cultivation and the REDD mechanism. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. Volume 1, Issue 2, December 2009, Pages 156-160


[47] See, for example, Adrien, Sinafasi Makelo (2006), The Impacts of the Carbon Sinks of the Ibi-Batéké Project on the Indigenous Pygmies of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, International Alliance of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of Tropical Forests

[48] Chhatre, Ashwini and Arun Agrawal (2009): Trade-offs and synergies between carbon storage and livelihood benefits from forest commons. PNAS 20 October 2009, vol. 106, no. 42

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