Indigenous Groups Are Key to Reversing Amazon Destruction

Indigenous Groups Are Key to Reversing Amazon Destruction
This time of year, social and global leaders meet at the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP). They seek solutions to the climate crisis that threatens the entire world. In these meetings it is common to hear that the Amazon rainforest is the “lungs of the planet,” but this year, as COP’s 27th meeting comes to an end, if we want to make a more accurate analogy, we should refer to the Amazon as the “heart of the planet.”

The Amazon River flows through a tropical forest that covers 2. 86 million square miles, which is nearly the size of the land area of the contiguous U.S. 1126 This greenery covers approximately 5 percent of Earth’s surface and is critical modulates global climate system .. The Amazon is a unique hotspot for biodiversity. It is home to about one third of all known terrestrial species of plants, animals, and insects, 10 percent of all biomass on the planet and 20 percent of the world’s fresh water. Most importantly, there are more than 500 distinct indigenous peoples in the Amazon rainforest. The Amazon is the heart of a complex web interconnected ecological systems.

But this system is at risk of collapse and the politicians and officials in Amazon countries and elsewhere have done little to assist.

Businesses who extract natural resources and commodities of great value on the international market such as oil, timber and minerals are destroying the land, water, and land in the Amazon. According to the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP) the Amazon will reach a point where restoration will be impossible in the next 30 years. Contrary to popular belief, the Amazon is not a regional issue for the nine countries that make it up the Amazon region. It is a global priority issue that affects all of us.

It’s crucial that governments, businesses and civil society support Indigenous peoples in urgent restoration of ecosystems. We believe that, despite the Global North’s responsibility for causing this unprecedented catastrophe, it will be the Amazon basin’s Indigenous people who will lead the most durable and bold solutions to the current crisis.

In Ecuador and Peru, Indigenous groups, including the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (AIDESEP), the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE) and Coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA) have organized in defense of their Pachamama, as they call Mother Nature. This alliance is called the Amazon Sacred Headwaters Initiative, and it covers 86 million acres bioregion and is home to more than 600,000 people from 30 Indigenous nationalities.

This alliance is unique, because it is an initiative of Indigenous organizations, led by Indigenous people (27 of 29 members of the governing board are representatives of Indigenous organizations), and it is one of the largest standing forest conservation programs in the world, with a socioecological transition plan that has both territory- and global-level actions.

The main vehicle to achieve the alliance’s goals is the Bioregional Plan 2030, developed over four years with support from leading elders, known as “sabios,” from the Amazonian communities, and world-class international scientists. The plan outlines nine transition paths, including community-based renewable energy systems, and regenerative entrepreneurial, which in turn create economic and social benefits that prioritize nature and people living in the Amazon region. The plan will show that there is another vision of development that doesn’t violate ecosystems or human rights. It will strengthen Amazonian well-being and ensure Indigenous self-determination, territorial governance, as well as stop the expansion of extractive industries. This plan combines the best of both ancient and modern science to provide a comprehensive guideline on how to solve this crisis.

The ancestral knowledge of the Amazonian peoples and their territories and forests is also at risk. These Indigenous peoples are ancestral to the Amazon, and the companies and governments that support extraction regardless of environmental or human cost are destroying and displacing the native groups, mostly during the last 50 years. This is in addition the many rare species of animals and plants that have been lost. These species are at risk of losing genetic information that could help us understand evolution, disease, and adapt to changes in the environment like climate change. Beyond this, many studies have proven the linkage between biodiversity loss and new diseases, such as zoonotic diseases worldwide, which led to the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically in the Amazon, there is a study that shows the impacts of diversity loss and climate change on infectious diseases and public health.

The Amazon Sacred Headwaters Initiative (#1) is not the only collaborative effort to restore and sustain the Amazon basin. The Science Panel for the Amazon, composed of over 240 scientists, is the first high-level science initiative dedicated to the Amazon. The panel was created to present the scientific, economic, and moral case for conservation. It also aims to address widespread deforestation and forest degradation that has increased in recent years. Its 2021 Amazon Assessment Report, presented at COP 26, which has been called an “encyclopedia” of the Amazon region, is unprecedented for its scientific and geographic scope, its inclusion of Indigenous scientists, and its transparency, having undergone peer review and public consultation.

The situation is dire, but not impossible. There is no room for small actions. It is time to make systemic changes. A study by researchers at Princeton University and elsewhere concluded that deforestation of the Amazon results in up to 20 percent less rainfall in the U.S. Northwest. The hundreds of billions of trees in the Amazon biome have absorbed over a billion metric tons of CO2 per year, equal to about 4 percent of world fossil-fuel emissions. But recent studies suggest that deforestation and degradation are converting the Amazon from a net carbon sink to a carbon source. Because the Amazon is the “heart” of the planet, its destruction is not a regional problem. The wide range of consequences makes it a global issue.

This effort is a call for all humans, many who are skeptical of the rhetoric of major international events, national governments or traditional governance systems. This and similar efforts aim to avoid destruction and death, and instead promote a path of regeneration. This path is where all living things, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, Amazonians as well as non-Amazonians, humans and nonhuman beings, can live in dignity and safety while avoiding climate catastrophe. We must act faster and boldly. Start by protecting the heart and soul of the planet.

This is an opinion and analysis article, and the views expressed by the author or authors are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


    Uyunkar Domingo Peas Nampichkai is an Achuar leader from Ecuador and serves as the territories coordinator for the Amazon Sacred Headwaters Initiative. He is the founder of the Achuar community of Sharamentsa and served as the Vice President of CONFENIAE from 1993-1996.

    Uyunkar Domingo Peas Nampichkai es un lider achuar de Ecuador y trabaja como Coordinador Territorial de la Iniciativa de las Cuencas Sagradas Amazonicas. Es el fundador de la comunidad achuar de Sharamentsa y fue vicepresidente de la CONFENIAE de 1993 a 1996.

      Juan Manuel Crespo is a PhD student in Development Studies at University of the Basque Country. He studies eco-social action, particularly on issues of quality of life (buen vivir), political ecology, alternatives to development and knowledge management from decolonial perspectives. He is currently the Research Coordinator at Amazon Sacred Headwaters Initiative.

      Juan Manuel Crespo es doctorando en Estudios sobre el Desarrollo en la Universidad del Pais Vasco. Trabaja desde la investigacion-accion alrededor del Buen Vivir, la ecologia politica, alternativas al desarrollo y la gestion del conocimiento desde perspectivas decoloniales. Actualmente es Coordinador de Investigacion en la Iniciativa de las Cuencas Sagradas Amazonicas.

        Jesus Chavez is a climate communicator and entrepreneur. He is currently the Head of Global Communications for the Amazon Sacred Headwaters Initiative.

        Jesus Chavez es un comunicador y empresario especializado en cl

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