‘Protecting Amazon’s peoples key to climate stability’

The most effective solution for protecting the Amazon, which is essential to restoring climate stability, is defending its indigenous peoples’ rights and territories, according to the head of a nonprofit environmental group.

“Protecting the Amazon rainforest is essential to restoring climate stability. And the most effective solution for protecting the Amazon is defending indigenous peoples’ rights and territories from increasing threats, including rampant deforestation and industrial extraction,” Leila Salazar-Lopez, executive director of the nonprofit organization Amazon Watch, told Anadolu Agency.

Speaking on the connection between Indigenous life and the Amazon rainforest, Salazar-Lopez said it has existed for a long time.

“For thousands of years, the Amazon has been home to at least 400 distinct indigenous peoples from eight different South American countries whose lives are intrinsically connected to land, water and spirits for daily and cultural survival. This connection is what protects the rich biodiversity of life and our global climate for all life and future generations.”

– Rights of Indigenous peoples

Stressing the importance of supporting the rights of Indigenous peoples, Salazar-Lopez said this is not only a “moral imperative” but also the most efficient method that people can employ to protect the Amazon and the climate.

“Extending legal rights to indigenous communities is statistically the most effective strategy for maintaining forests’ carbon storage capacity and reducing carbon dioxide emissions and deforestation,” she highlighted, referring to recent studies on the dilemma.

Due to this bidirectional case, she said Amazon Watch attaches importance to work that strengthens indigenous voices and movements as well as providing all kinds of support to enhance their impact.

She stressed that despite their importance, the Amazon’s rainforests and Indigenous peoples “are suffering the worst assault in a generation” by governments and corporations that seek to profit from devastating “the most biodiverse terrestrial ecosystems on the planet.”

– Brazil’s attitude toward Amazon

Touching on the “assaults” on the rainforests and their Indigenous peoples, Salazar-Lopez criticized Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s policy on the socio-environmental aspects of the issue.

“The ascension of the extreme right-wing politician Jair Bolsonaro to Brazil’s presidency profoundly exacerbates the country’s environmental and human rights crisis. Since taking power, his government has slashed socio-environmental standards that are fundamental to preserving the Amazon’s ecological integrity and the well-being of forest peoples,” she said.

Additionally, she said that European and North American businesses which finance and source from Brazil play a role in damaging the socio-environmental landscape of the Amazon that “enables this landscape to be reshaped to our collective detriment”.

“In Brazil alone, deforestation rates within community-protected forests are 11 times lower than in other areas,” she added, stressing the seriousness of the situation.

“From the Amazon to the Arctic, dirty industrial development and human greed are destroying critical ecosystems and harming the communities that depend on the land,” she said, referring to a UN report on the threats to global biodiversity.

Salazar-Lopez emphasized that humankind’s survival was essentially tied to the health of the environment as indigenous peoples have exhibited. 

She said her organization has three priorities: “Stop Amazon’s Destruction”, “Advance Indigenous Solutions” and “Support Climate Justice” to find a solution.

“For over 20 years now, we have stood in solidarity with forest and river peoples to protect their rainforest homes, advance their rights and support indigenous solutions to climate change,” she said, pointing to Amazon Watch’s work to overcome the problems that the rainforests and their inhabitants face.

Indigenous peoples make up 4% of the global population and hold 20% of the global land mass, which contains 80% of global biodiversity, according to the UN.

Amazon Watch is a nonprofit organization founded in 1996 to protect the rainforests and advance the rights of indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin. It also partners with indigenous and environmental organizations in campaigns for human rights, corporate accountability and the preservation of the Amazon’s ecological systems, according to its website.

*The feature story based on the second part of the interview with Leila Salazar-Lopez, the executive director of Amazon Watch movement on June 29, 2019.


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