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How Land and Environmental Defenders Protect the Planet, and How We Can Protect Them

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If we want to avert a climate disaster and deliver real climate justice, governments and businesses must protect Land and Environmental Defenders and ensure their voices are heard.

Who can be a Defender?

Land and Environmental Defenders (or Defenders for short) are ordinary people trying to peacefully protect their homes, livelihoods and the health of our planet. They take a stand against the unjust, discriminatory, corrupt or damaging exploitation of natural resources or the natural environment. Anyone, in any part of the world – from an individual protesting for climate justice,  to a community taking local action to stop a polluting mining operation in their area, or state employees tracking illegal logging – can be a Defender.

The term is an overarching one that covers a disparate group of people whose individual actions serve to benefit the environment, even if that may not be their primary focus. Defenders often live in communities whose land, health and livelihoods are threatened by the operations of mining, logging or agribusiness companies. Others will be defending our biodiverse environment, whilst some will be supporting these community efforts through their work – as human rights or environmental lawyers, politicians, park rangers, journalists, or members of campaigns or civil society organisations.

What do Defenders do?

The tactics and strategies used by Defenders vary from group to group and person to person. However, a common thread that unites them all: they all speak out against the harm done to people or the planet through the exploitation of land and natural resources by businesses and governments for profit. This could be through awareness-raising and protest, peaceful direct action, filing legal complaints, or other ways of speaking out.

Some examples include:

  • Berta Cáceres, who through protest, community organising, and filing complaints with government authorities drew attention to the ways a planned hydropower project in Honduras would damage a local river and violate the rights and threaten the livelihoods of Indigenous people who lived nearby.
  • Ouch Leng, who along with other members of the Prey Lang Community Network monitors the protected Prey Lang Forest wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia, reporting instances of illegal logging and forest clearance.
  • The Waorani indigenous community in Ecuador, who won a landmark legal ruling in 2019 to prevent the Ecuadorian government selling off their land for oil and gas exploration.

You can find many other examples of the incredible work Defenders do in our Defenders annual reports.

How effective are Defenders in fighting climate change?

The role of Defenders, and specially those part of Indigenous communities, is often overlooked when governments and international organisations discuss potential solutions to the climate crisis. However, all the evidence suggests that they are incredibly effective at what they do.

In 2019, the United Nations formally recognised the role of Defenders in environmental protection, and a recent global study showed that in 11% of environmental conflicts, Defenders contributed to halting environmentally destructive projects.

A significant number of Defenders are Indigenous People, who play an outsized role in protecting the environment. While they occupy around a quarter of the Earth’s land, they are responsible for 35% of terrestrial areas with very low human impacts, helping maintain 80% of the world’s biodiversity. Indigenous lands also store hundreds of gigatons of carbon.

Defenders often rely on their local environment for their livelihoods, so they manage it in a sustainable way for future generations. Unfortunately, this frequently brings them into conflict with global supply chains which aren’t interested in environmental preservation.

Defenders explainer video still 1

Why is it so dangerous to be a Defender?

The extractive business models of destructive industries like mining, logging and large-scale agriculture come into direct conflict with the ways in which Defenders live their lives. In too many countries, rich in natural resources and biodiversity, corporations are operating with almost complete impunity – safe in the knowledge that the state will look the other way and prioritise short-term profits rather than protect the rights of local communities.

In their pursuit of profit, these industries may begin by intimidating communities to give up their land, or collaborating with state officials to take it from them. Where people object, companies often back up their demands with threats, intimidation, legal crackdowns or outright violence – using  company security guards, state security forces, or hired assassins.

On average, four Defenders have been killed every week since December 2015 – the month the Paris Climate Agreement was signed – with countless more targeted with non-lethal violence or criminalised as a result of their peaceful activities. All too often, there is no accountability for the people who attack them, further reinforcing the culture of impunity and paving the way for future violence.

Defenders explainer video still 3

What can we do to stop attacks against Defenders?

There are ways to reduce the fear and violence faced by Defenders in carrying out their work:

We must support Defenders by raising awareness of the threats they face and making the case for specific laws and policies to protect them.

We must tackle the root causes of these attacks. Violence often occurs when people’s rights to their land and natural resources are weak, undocumented or poorly enforced, while laws empower companies to exploit them with impunity.

To combat this, policymakers must strengthen land rights and environmental safeguards, and protect defenders by enforcing them. They must pass regulations that impose accountability on global supply chain companies dominating the international trade and investments, forcing them to respect the right of communities to give or withhold their free, prior and informed consent regarding the use of their land and natural resources.

And we need to ensure accountability by bringing those responsible for attacks on Defenders to justice, and enabling those who suffer as a result of a company’s actions to seek remedy and reparations for the damage caused.

Ending the culture of impunity is vital to deterring future attacks.

Original Source: Globalwitness.org

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Water hyacinth threatens Lake Victoria’s ecosystem

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Dar es Salaam, Tanzania | Xinhua | Water hyacinth, an invasive plant species is choking Lake Victoria and threatening the lake’s ecosystem and investments, including operations of ports, an official said on Sunday.

The Lake Victoria Basin Water Board communications officer, Perpetua Masaga, said the spreading of the water hyacinth in the lake shared by Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, also blocks smooth flowing of water into the lake from tributaries.

Masaga made the remarks during an exercise to remove the water hyacinth by environmental stakeholders along the lake’s beaches in Tanzania’s Mwanza region located on the southern shores of the lake.

“The water hyacinth in Lake Victoria is also posing a threat to fisheries and marine transport,” said the official.

She said in 2017, the water hyacinth covered about 520 hectares of the lake but most of the invasive plant species was eliminated.

“Now we have observed that the water hyacinth is spreading faster again,” said Masaga, calling on stakeholders to join forces in eliminating the invasive plant species.

Water hyacinth is an aquatic floating plant native to South America that has become a global freshwater scourge after being inadvertently transported worldwide.

It is believed to have first reached Lake Victoria in the 1990’s, floating down the lake’s western tributary, the Kagera River.

Original Source: Xinhua via The independent.co.ug

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WWF apologises for human rights abuse allegations and commits to an indigenous-led approach to global conservation

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Gland, 26 May 2021 – IN LIGHT OF EVIDENCE OF SERIOUS HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES, WWF commits to reparations for victims and to a long-term strategy which, for the first time, prioritizes indigenous people’s land rights and promotes community-led conservation across WWF-supported areas.

In January 2021, the WWF International Board began an internal revision of the remedial action taken by the organisation following the findings and recommendations of the Embedding Human Rights in Nature Conservation: From Intent to Action report. This process, supported by all 35 boards of WWF’s constituent members, has determined that WWF’s initial response to the Independent Panel’s investigation on alleged human rights abuses in and around WWF-supported areas failed to adequately compensate victims or deal with the shortcomings within WWF as well as partner organisations, that enabled these abuses. The widespread harm caused to local communities by WWF-supported conservation efforts suggests an ambitious project of reform is necessary to ensure WWF is able to protect Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) rights everywhere we work.

“We need to radically transform the way we envision and approach conservation, moving away from “easy-fix” climate and environmental solutions that continue to harm indigenous people and frontline communities. This redesigning process must prioritize community-led conservation, placing IPLCs at the centre of conservation and land management initiatives. Indigenous people are the most effective environmental custodians which should make securing their rights over their customary lands our number one priority. It is not simply a matter of human rights and international law, but about supporting the best solution we have against this climate and ecological crisis” said Marco Lambertini, Director General, WWF International.

Conservation works best when local communities are put at the heart of it. Working to secure the community tenure of indigenous peoples and local communities will empower those best equipped to look after their local environment and is the best way to conserve all our planet’s natural wonders.

Acknowledging and apologising for The Independent Panel’s findings:

In April 2019 the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) commissioned a panel of global human rights and conservation experts to conduct a systemic review of WWF practices and provide recommendations in regards to alleged human rights abuses in and around protected areas supported by WWF in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Nepal and India.

The report’s key findings:

  •  Allegations across the protected ares in question include multiple instances of murder, rape, torture, unlawful arrest and detention, physical beatings, corruption, complicity in poaching, and destruction and theft of personal property committed by WWF-supported ecoguards against IPLCs.
  • WWF had knowledge of alleged human rights abuses in every protected area under review and failed to investigate credible allegations of abuse in half of those protected areas.
  • WWF continued to fund, train and equip eco-guards alleged to have committed human rights abuses despite knowledge of those allegations and without taking adequate steps to operationalize safeguarding and human rights protection protocols designed to protect IPLCS.
  • Where WWF did conduct investigations into these abuses they came several years after allegations were first made and only following pressure from the media and/or civil society.
  • Where WWF was involved in the creation of protected areas, it failed to ensure the effective participation of IPLCs and thus violated their right to free,prior and informed consent.
  • The Panel found no agreement in place between WWF and the local authorities responsible for park administration to ensure the upholding of the human rights and FPIC rights of IPLCS.

An official apology

In light of these findings, we unreservedly apologise to the indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) of the areas under review, and to any other individual or community that has been subject to similar abuses in and around other WWF-supported protected areas.

Moreover, we want to take responsibility for the violent evictions of IPLCs carried out by WWF-supported ecoguards and for the impacts that their eviction from their lands has had on these IPLCs, including loss of culture and livelihoods, and increased malnutrition.

We also want to apologise to our supporters, donors, volunteers and readers for not having immediately disclosed allegations of human rights abuses in WWF affiliated parks. We have a responsibility of full transparency to all those who support and believe in our work.

Reparations

To adequately compensate victims of human-rights abuses carried out by WWF supported projects in the seven countries originally investigated in the Panel’s report, WWF have set aside $2 million dollars. The processing of reparations claims will be overseen by indigenous leaders and representatives from the communities affected.

We fear that the inadequate nature of our previous grievance procedures has prevented many other victims of human rights abuses from reporting injustices. Since we cannot at this stage be certain of the scale of abuses WWF programmes are implicated in we are setting aside a further $5 million for future claims.

Transforming our approach

The WFF international board has concluded that the scale and severity of the problems identified by the Panel in the protected areas reviewed demonstrate endemic flaws in WWF’s operational approach. These have resulted in the systematic eviction of indigenous people from their customary lands, their exclusion from leadership positions in local conservation projects and the militarisation of protected areas’ security forces.

Following the Panel’s recommendations and in compliance with our human rights commitments we have already started to take remedial action. The Management Response and initial measures taken can be found here. Below is a list of further measures we are committed to implement across all protected areas WWF supports, in order to turn the page and build a conservation model that safeguards local communities’ human rights and actively supports indigenous people’s claims to their customary lands.

In protected areas where rights abuses have been alleged we will:

  • Commission independent indigenous peoples’ committees to review the original investigations.
  • Work alongside indigenous leaders to ensure the resolution of allegations by compensating victims and working with local authorities to prosecute the perpetrators.
  • Establish externally supervised safeguards to prevent further abuses.

In all WWF- supported protected areas and conservation initiatives we commit to:

  • Initiate independent reviews of the effects of protected areas on local communities’ rights.
  • Freeze all funding towards protected areas and other conservation initiatives where human rights abuses have been reported until allegations have been resolved, externally supervised safeguard mechanisms established, and all victims adequately compensated.
  • Adopt concrete measures to identify and hold accountable all members of the organization that have been responsible for WWF negligence, ineffective response and direct involvement in alleged human rights abuses, including staff members in individual countries, the WWF senior management team and board members.
  • Work with local and indigenous communities to co-design accessible and inclusive pathways to submit complaints and report any issues with ongoing conservation initiatives through.
  • Carry out new independent free, prior and Informed consent processes with impacted local communities in all current and proposed protected areas; empowering communities to decide how and whether they wish to work with WWF to support their own conservation efforts.
  • Use WWF influence to actively support, at local, national and international levels indigenous people’s claims over their customary lands and their efforts to secure legal ownership rights and conservation responsibilities over such territories.
  • Withdraw financial and practical support to partners and collaborators who fail to support indigenous people’s rights and claims to customary land.

Commenting on the internal revision, Pavan Sukhdev, President of WWF International, said:

“From the report’s findings it is clear that for decades our negligence, and in some instances direct involvement with episodes of violence and abuse, have caused serious emotional, physical and psychological harm to individuals and entire communities across the world. We need to acknowledge that and take responsibility for our role in these allegations. There is no excuse and a formal apology is not enough. We can and need to do better. We need to ensure that the measures that we commit to take forward go beyond minor changes and embody our first step towards a real transformation of our work and ethos.”

Open Letter to WWF

WWF, you are the most well-known environmental organisations in the world: you have great power and an even greater responsibility. However, time and again your projects have dispossessed and abused Indigenous and local communities. You claim that they endanger the ecosystems they have cared for long before you entered their lands. On the other hand, you collaborate with the very same corporations that actually destroy biodiversity, greenwashing their destructive practices. For the sake of justice and the survival of ecosystems worldwide, stop legitimising violence and human rights abuses in the name of conservation. Instead, become an ally to Indigenous people, local communities, and the Global Majority.

For too long you have been dividing humans from nature by building walls; imposing a colonial model called ‘Fortress conservation’, which places conservation in direct conflict with human rights.

You dictate who is “unauthorised” in the lands you enter. You fund, train and legitimise militarised eco-guards who violently evict local communities from their homes. You act on the dangerous and false colonial ideology that perceives human presence as a threat to the ecosystem, except if they are wealthy, predominantly white tourists. You demonise and prevent indigenous and local people from hunting sustainably to feed themselves, but have encouraged trophy hunting for super-rich tourists. This model, based on separation and colonial values, is a violent lie that supports white supremacy – it is, to put it simply, ecofascism.

Fortress conservation is putting us all in danger, as it is further destroying the connection between land and people. It is destroying the cultures who have taken care of and regenerated that land for hundreds of years. This makes you complicit in the historic colonial violence against local and indigenous communities. Their cultures hold rich and powerful counterstories that teach the interdependence and deep connection between humans, the earth and all beings, which so many of us need to rediscover.

This failure of WWF concerns us all because it directly affects both the people and the planet. A recent report by an independent panel of experts shows a shocking history of murder, rape, torture, and violence committed by the eco-guards that WWF funds, equips and manages. This report goes even further in revealing that you have had knowledge of this, yet you continue to fund them. This is simply appalling.

From the Republic of Congo to Nepal, and India to Cameroon, these are not a few ‘bad apples’ but inherent aspects of the oppressive colonial conservation model you employ, and that dominates the conservation sector. Communities are losing their lands, their homes and ways of life, threatening them with starvation, disease and the loss of their human dignity. Dividing communities from their land and livelihoods will always be violent.

Many of the people on your boards are financing, working or lobbying for some of the most environmentally destructive companies on Earth. How can the same people who are destroying the global ecosystem lead and fund its preservation? It’s absurd that we need to say this, but the people leading you should not be those profiting from ecocide.

You invest your supporters’ donations into heavily polluting industries, such as fossil fuels and agribusiness, and partner with them. You receive donations from logging and palm oil companies and let them cut through the same forests you claim to protect.

To put it bluntly, WWF has a profound conflict of interest, and is working with, rather than against, those destroying life on Earth. Rather than challenging those industries, you greenwash them, allowing them to expand their destruction. It is pitiful for an environmental organisation to simply ask companies to slow down their destruction of our home: you must join the global environmental movement in demanding they stop immediately!

WWF, you have betrayed the Global Family. In frontline communities your betrayal means violence. To your supporters your betrayal means broken promises and complicity.

Your organisation has sold us the image of being the ‘good guys’ in an evil world of environmental destruction. From an early age, your iconic panda has playfully filled our cultural consciousness; clambering into our classrooms; filling our shelves with fluffy tokenistic toys, and our minds with idealised imagery of the “pristine wilderness” that serves your marketing strategy.

We entrusted you with the fight for the planet, raising tens of millions of pounds from our pockets as public donors in the UK alone. Yet rather than using this power to support the mobilisation of social and ecological movements of solidarity, you use the power of marketing; you sell us the ridiculous story that simply purchasing, petitioning and running marathons will “save the planet”! You reduce activism to mass consumption – the rotten core of the environmental crisis – making your supporters’ actions hollow and meaningless. You take the struggle for survival of life on earth and make it into a brand. You then use our money, our agency and our validation to make us complicit in outrageous acts of violence and human rights abuses against our brothers and sisters around the world. Through you, we too become tools of fortress conservation and capitalism’s violence.

However, we in the Minority World/Global North are not the real victims of your betrayal. Your failure to serve those with the capacity of preserving the ecosystems you claim to protect is your betrayal to humanity. Those communities are the heart of the resistance to ecocide.

The same people you are persecuting have been caring for the land, their home, for hundreds of years, and are essential to its flourishing. There is increasingly clear evidence on the key role of indigenous communities in already safeguarding 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity, and therefore many conservation bodies call on all organisations to support their land rights. Often Indigenous and community-managed lands have even higher biodiversity and less deforestation than national parks and wildlife reserves. They don’t only slow down degradation, but actually improve the state of the ecosystem. By ignoring these scientific facts you are harming nature – the very thing you claim to be protecting. Why are you oppressing the people who are doing conservation better than you?

WWF, you must advocate for the land and human rights of local and indigenous communities, supporting their cultural, political and ecological work. Even if a community is degrading their ecosystem, any conservation initiative must be led by a dialogue among equals working together. It must support local livelihoods, and enable community-led learning for regeneration that is based on equity and justice. Ultimately, conservation works best when local communities are empowered at the heart of their local environments.

You are already taking steps in this direction in Latin America; so why do you attack communities elsewhere? You must not simply “involve” communities in an imposed neoliberal agenda based on ‘development’ and markets – the very same things that destroy our planet.

You must rethink your role as a supporting one: you are not the protagonist in this story. Right now, in fact, you’re the villain. Effective stories of conservation must be co-written and led by the visions, decisions, knowledge and guidance of indigenous and local communities.

WWF, you know the ecological catastrophe we face: yet its urgency must not be reacted to with your current eco-fascist ‘solutions’. If we do not challenge the crisis appropriately, the suffering and deaths will be devastating. You also know that Indigenous’ and local communities’ land rights and cultures are fundamental to the health of their ecosystems, and to their resistance to the corporations that degrade them. Greenwashing and small technical fixes won’t solve this crisis: we need a transformation of our global consciousness that decolonizes the ways we understand and promote conservation. If you keep attacking Indigenous and local communities, working with polluting industries and the governments who serve them, you will continue to be complicit in the ecological catastrophe and guilty of ecofascism. You will continue to fail to represent or be in solidarity with the global environmental and social justice movement.

The best hope for our survival and flourishing is for conservationists to unite with the Indigenous resistance movement, and fight the environmental destruction of governments and industry. Whose side are you on in this struggle for the survival of life on Earth?

We will not stop challenging the WWF to radically dismantle its colonial approach to conservation, until they join us in enacting the following demands:

1- STOP THE HARM:
Immediately stop dispossessing indigenous and local communities of their land. Cease any collaboration or support to organisations and security forces that evict local communities.

2- GROUND CONSERVATION IN JUSTICE:
Transition all your fortress conservation projects to the support of genuine indigenous-led and community-led conservation. Projects must actively advocate and be based upon: recognising land rights, local knowledge, local livelihoods, and social justice. Use your platform and financial leverage to advocate these changes across the whole conservation sector.

3- BE ACCOUNTABLE:
Be accountable by giving control of project funding to local communities, through their own democratic/collective processes. Be transparent through systems of direct people-to-people communication, such as people’s assemblies, between local communities and your supporters.

4- END TOXIC RELATIONSHIPS:
Stop the conflict of interests with those destroying ecosystems: cut financial links with large corporations; fire board members from polluting industries; use your platform to mobilize people to take action and demand an end to corporate ecocide.

Signed by:

Organisations:

  • Survival International
  • Centre for the Anthropology of Sustainability, University College London
  • Association Okani
  • Pan-African Living Cultures Alliance (PALCA)
  • Integrated development Initiatives in Ngorongoro (IDINGO)
  • Front Commun pour la Protection de l’Environnement et des Espaces Protégés
  • Ole Siosiomaga Society Incorporated (OLSSI), SAMOA
  • Fondation Internationale pour le Développement l’Education l’Entreprenariat et la Protection de l’Environnement (FIDEPE)
  • Pastoral Peace Reconciliation Initiative (PPRI)
  • XR Anti-Oppression Circle
  • Rogerio Cumbane/MAKOMANE-ADM (Association for Community Development)
  • XR Internationalist Solidarity Network (XRISN)
  • Skogsupproret (Forest Rebellion)

People:

  • Arturo Escobar (Professor of Anthropology)
  • Katy Molloy (Flourishing Diversity)
  • Fe Haslam (Global Justice Forum – GJF)
  • Francis Shomet Olenaingi’sa
  • Fiore Longo – Survival International
  • Cathryn Townsend
  • Fiu Mataese Elisara – Executive Director of OLSSI
  • Romao Xavier – Programme and Advocacy Coordinator
  • SHAPIOM NONINGO – Technical Secretary GTANW
  • Jose Ines Loria Palma – President of the San Crisanto Foundation
  • Elena Kreuzberg – Consultant on Environmental Issues
  • Maurizio Farhan Ferrari – Senior Policy Adviser on Environmental Governance
  • KOAGNE Clovis – Coordinateur Général Fondation Internationale pour le Développement l’Education l’Entreprenariat et la Protection de l’Environnement (FIDEPE)
  • Milka Chepkorir
  • Samuel Nangiria
  • Kofi Mawuli Klu (XRISN)
  • Esther Stanford-Xosei
  • Jerome Lewis

Original Source: redd-monitor.org

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Put people above profits – Climate Activists urge Total to defund EACOP

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Climate activists through their umbrella association of Fridays for Future – Uganda have urged petroleum refining company, Total to pull out from the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project.

Uganda is in the advanced stages of building its first-ever oil pipeline fueled and financed by Total.

The proposed 1,445-kilometre crude oil pipeline, if completed will start from Hoima in Uganda to the port of Tanga inside Tanzania and this will be the longest heated crude oil pipeline in the world.

The activists held a climate strike on Friday, in partnership with other organizations and activists around the world as Total held its annual general meeting.

Speaking to Nile Post, Hilda Flavia Nakabuye, the founder of Fridays for Future – Uganda said that by funding this project, Total is unlocking a new source of carbon emissions that will either prove financially unviable or produce unacceptable climate harm.

“The EACOP project by Total is a straight pass to doom. Uganda is an agro-based and developing country that does not need fossil fuels to develop. What Uganda really needs is protecting and preserving biodiversity, renewable energy technologies which will provide clean jobs to people,” Nakabuye said.

Nakabuye added that the 34.3 million tons of emissions that will be produced each year from the pipeline will worsen the already existing climate disasters that they are already crying about.

“We too dream of clean cities, we hope for a sustainable future for us and generations to come, please don’t send us to doom but let out dreams come true. Total should put people above profitability and Stop EACOP immediately,” Nakabuye told Nile Post.

President Museveni earlier on in May witnessed the signing of the Host Government Agreement between the government of Tanzania and the oil companies going to undertake the construction of the oil pipeline from the oil fields in Hoima in Uganda to the Indian seaport of Tanga in Tanzania.

Museveni, in his words, described the signing of the Host Government Agreement between the government of Tanzania and the EACOP for the construction of the oil pipeline as a ‘historic event and a very important regional project that will not only benefit Uganda and Tanzania but will also, in the long run, serve countries in the Great Lakes region.’

Activists however said that money will be useless on a dead planet because the project adds to the risk of limiting global warming below 1 point 5.

Original Source: NilePost

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