Global Environment Facility CEO Monique Barbut yesterday said that success in initiatives to improve the global environment depends on consistently involving local communities and particularly indigenous groups in environmental strategies and projects.
Speaking at the Congress of the International Society of Ethnobiology, Barbut, CEO and Chairperson of the world’s largest public funder of projects to benefit the global environment, presented the policy initiatives being implemented by the GEF in connection with indigenous groups.
“The way we work with indigenous people, not only in the projects we finance, but also in the governance of our institution, reflects my determination that the global environmental movement recognize the importance of this issue,” said Barbut, who is completing her second term as GEF CEO.
“We do this not because it was fashionable or trendy, or simply to make ourselves feel good. We do it most of all because it made good sense.”
Working with local communities, including indigenous peoples, is not only the most effective approach to environmental projects, it is also the most cost-effective, Barbut said.
Projects that follow this philosophy benefit greatly from local knowledge and techniques for working with natural resources and the environment of a given region or locality.
“Protecting local and ancestral knowledge is thus not only a way for us to fulfill our current mission and protect the environment, but also to preserve options and solutions for the future,” Barbut said.
“I am convinced that the policy that we have implemented to strengthen the participation of indigenous peoples has permanently enriched the GEF and enhanced its standing.”
The GEF has emphasized the importance of indigenous peoples throughout Barbut’s two terms in office, she said, as an integral part of efforts to improve the GEF’s performance, its management, and its visibility. Making decisions more inclusive contributes to a better sense of ownership of the GEF in the beneficiary countries.
Barbut said that more indigenous groups are now participating in the network of NGOs affiliated with the GEF than ever before. This progress stems not only from a preferred approach to GEF projects but also from specific and resolute policies designed to ensure engagement with indigenous peoples and respect for their rights.
Barbut described a 12-year GEF-financed program in Brazil that involves extensive work with local communities and indigenous peoples to develop sustainable forestry practices.
The initiatives, financed with a $18 million GEF grant and $30 million in cofinancing, has led to the creation of 25 million hectares of protected areas, an area the size of Great Britain.
The project is helping preserve the biodiversity of the world’s largest rain forest and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Nearly half of the “Sustainable Development Reserves” involved in the project are being managed by local and indigenous peoples.