Indigenous Rights: A key to Environmental sustainability


The Brundtland Commission’s report on World Commission on Environment and Development titled ‘Our Common Future’, argued that development can only be sustainable if current use does not leave the environment depleted for future use. This implies that present use of resources must not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs from the use of the same resource.  If this is true, then allowing Indigenous people the right to use, manage and share control of their local environment is the way forward for environmental sustainability.

Because indigenous people often live in remote and isolated communities, their very livelihoods have been closely tied to their environment. This makes protecting their environment a critical factor to their own survival. The areas they inhabit have no infrastructure such as roads, schools, health etc and outside the mainstream of the national economy. Though these areas are often fragile, they are rich in resources and diverse ecosystems, exposing them to commercial and economic exploitation. The distinct livelihoods of Indigenous people make them depend on access to land and natural resources which must be sustained.

As a result, environmental sustainability is crucial and therefore of growing concern for indigenous communities globally. Economic growth and development, regardless of what form it takes, poses a threat to the physical, social and cultural survival of indigenous communities and their livelihoods. Even so-called environmental friendly initiatives such as bio-fuel and hydroelectricity have implications for the environment and the livelihoods of indigenous communities. Although the United Nations in 2007 adopted the ‘UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples’ most governments are paying less attention to these rights. They were suppose to provide a special safeguards for indigenous peoples and promote respect for their rights to Free, Prior and Informed Consent on all issues affect their livelihoods.

It is against this background that representatives of indigenous people and civil society Groups, in June 2012 gathered in Rio, Brazil, with heads of states and governments to push forward a global agenda on sustainable development. These groups provided a united front for world leaders to make a political commitment to protect and promote the rights of indigenous communities. In their contribution, representatives of Indigenous People put forward a five point resolution to be considered in the final communiqué of the Rio+20 summit. These were as following:

  1. Recognition of culture as the fourth pillar of sustainable development.
  2. Recognition of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a standard in the implementation of sustainable development at all levels.
  3. The cornerstones of green economies are diverse local economies, in the context of poverty eradication and sustainable development, biodiversity loss and climate change.
  4. Safeguard the lands, territories and resources, and associated customary management and sustainable use systems.
  5. Indigenous and traditional knowledge are distinct and special contributions to 21st century learning and action.

2 Responses to “Indigenous Rights: A key to Environmental sustainability”

  1. mktkwaddoreen Says:

    Well thought and presented script. I got lost in translation.

  2. diwuoha1 Says:

    Indigenous people know the history of the land and more often than not, they are the ones to preserve the culture.

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