A Kayapo man seated on a mountain top overlooking forest in the Amazon.
© Neil Ever Osborne

This image was taken on behalf of the International Conservation Fund of Canada (ICFC), which has worked with the Kayapo people to protect their 26-million-acre landholdings from encroaching loggers, miners, and Brazilian frontier society. From satellite photographs, the Kayapo traditional lands in Mato Grosso and Pará are a jewel of the Amazon, emerald and unblemished. On the margins of their land are the roads, clearings, frontier towns, and billowing smoke from fires clearing the land for cattle and farming. The efforts of the Kayapo have not always succeeded: Construction on the hugely destructive Belo Monte Dam on the Xingu River in Pará commenced in March 2011 after decades of legal and political resistance. It continues to be contested on legal fronts.

Indigenous Peoples’ Forest Tenure

Reduce SourcesFood, Agriculture, and Land UseProtect Ecosystems
Support SinksLand Sinks
CO2 Equivalent
Reduced / Sequestered
Billion $US
Net First Cost
(To Implement Solution)
Secure land tenure protects indigenous peoples’ rights. With sovereignty, traditional practices can continue—in turn protecting ecosystems and carbon sinks and preventing emissions from deforestation.

Solution Summary*

Indigenous communities have long been the frontline of resistance against deforestation; mineral, oil, and gas extraction; and the expansion of monocrop plantations. Their resistance prevents land-based carbon emissions, and maintains or increases carbon sequestration.

Indigenous and community-owned lands represent 18 percent of all land area, including at least 1.2 billion acres of forest, containing 37.7 billion tons of carbon stock. Growing the acreage under secure indigenous land tenure can increase above- and belowground carbon stocks and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation.

Beyond carbon, indigenous land management conserves biodiversity, maintains a range of ecosystems services, safeguards rich cultures and traditional ways of life, and responds to the needs of the most vulnerable. Practices include:

  • home gardens,
  • agroforestry systems,
  • shifting swidden cultivation,
  • pastoral approaches to raising livestock,
  • fire management, and
  • community managed forests.

Indigenous communities are among those most dramatically impacted by climate change—despite contributing the least to its causes—because of their land-based livelihoods, histories of colonization, and social marginalization. More can be done to recognize the unique impacts climate change has on them, as well as their critical contributions of traditional knowledge and practices.

* excerpted from the book, Drawdown

Indigenous peoples have secure land tenure on 497 million hectares globally, though they live on and manage much more. If forestland under secure tenure grows by 995–1141million hectares by 2050, reduced deforestation could result in 8.7–12.9 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions avoided. This solution could bring the total forest area under indigenous management to 1.14 billion hectares, securing an estimated protected stock of 187–215 gigatons of carbon, roughly equivalent to over 687–786 gigatons of carbon dioxide if released into the atmosphere.