Guardians of climate & nature

Indigenous Peoples comprise less than 5 percent of the global population but protect more than 80 percent of its biodiversity. Their importance in climate solutions alongside their need to have access to resources to keep their self-determined climate actions are critical in the path to a just transition.

When the rights of Indigenous Peoples are recognized, secured, and protected, rates of deforestation tend to be lower and carbon stocks tend to be higher than in forests managed by other actors. Secure rights for community forest guardians can also improve ecosystem integrity, protect biodiversity, and enhance public health.

Despite this, less than 1 percent of funding currently reaches Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities to secure tenure rights and manage forests in tropical countries. From all the funds allocated in the last 10 years to support IPLC’s tenure rights and forest management, only 17 percent actually included an IPLC organization, which represents 0.13 percent of all the aid designated to climate change. And out of the US$1.7 billion financing committed in the COP26 IPLC Forest Tenure Pledge from 2021 to 2025, only 7 percent of the funds distributed to date to fulfil this pledge have directly reached IPLC groups.

Why funding is critical:

  1. Indigenous Peoples and local communities-led funds work: Funds are an alternative, efficient and effective financial mechanism, already in place, that can reach out to communities that wouldn’t normally have access to funds, respecting their self-determination rights and priorities.
  2. Financial mechanisms are international and context-specific: Stories and data show that these funds can operate in all socio-cultural regions, in different contexts, having in common the fact that they are built by and for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.
  3. Funding is inefficient: There is a need to change the narrative and increase direct financial flows to Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities if we want to reach the Paris Agreement goals and the best way to do it is through Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities-led funds. Funding for Nature-based Solutions, currently around $133-143 billion per year, needs to triple by 2030. The funding gap for biodiversity conservation is even larger, at $700 billion per year.
  4. Funding is inequitable: Funding for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities’ tenure rights and forest guardianship stands at just $270 million per year – 0.04 percent of total annual climate finance.
  5. Funding is inflexible: Much existing climate finance remains stuck in complicated multilateral funds, a system the former head of the Green Climate Fund calls “obsolete.” Among other problems, funders retain inflexible systems that are poorly suited for real-world realities, creating bottlenecks that harm communities and the climate.

Recognizing the importance of this, the Climate Champions Team gathered testimonies from leaders of alternative funding mechanisms. We asked fund leaders across the world to share their perspectives on how to leverage the financial system and explain the true impact of providing Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities with direct access to finance.

The Climate Champions Team would like to thank those who contributed and who trusted our work to promote and highlight their stories and testimonies. They are the true leaders of climate solutions and we deeply appreciate their efforts in this collective fight.

***Full interviews coming soon***




Discover the value of Indigenous-led funds

Importance of self-determined funding

    We asked Indigenous Peoples about the need for direct access to finance. Some of the concepts we heard the most: equity, effectiveness, efficiency and self-determination.

    “The direct territorial investment funding is an alternative financial mechanism designed by and for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs). The main objective is to promote rights-based, efficient and effective direct investment in key biodiversity and forests of the world managed or habited by Indigenous Peoples and local communities. The fact that this fund is managed by IPLCs, which have presence and positioning in the territories, ensures lower transaction costs. As well, the management of funds is developed according to clear protocols and accountability with a certain degree of flexibility trying to balance donors’ regulations and cultural adaptation according to IPLC’s context” — Maria Pia Hernandez Palacios, Mesoamerican Territorial Fund, Central America

    “To be more effective and efficient. Because all this time, most of the funding is located and managed by intermediary institutions and the mechanisms are determined by these institutions. If Indigenous Peoples have direct access to funding, most of the funds can be better utilised for needs of Indigenous communities in managing and protecting their customary territories, it is much cheaper and the mechanisms can be adapted to the diverse capacities of Indigenous communities — Titi Pangestu, The Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago” – AMAN, Asia

    “Indigenous Peoples are able to exercise their right to self-determined development and will be able to continue their contributions to solutions of the climate crises if they have accessible, sustainable climate financing ” — Helen Magata, Tebtebba Foundation, Asia

    “With access to stable, self-directed funding, Indigenous Nations can set ambitious goals for protecting their territories, growing local economies, and investing in their communities. Endowments and similar finance tools generate predictable, long-term revenue that helps Nations plan over a greater span of time (and reduces dependence on project and short-term grants.) Beyond dollars, Indigenous-led funders bring experience working with many Nations and can offer support with project planning, finance strategy, and introductions to funders and partners” — Eddy Adra, Coast Funds, North America

    “Considering the relevant impact and good practices of Indigenous Funds operating in Brazil (Rio Negro Indigenous Fund – FIRN, Timbira Fund, Support for Community Initiatives – AIC ATIX, Podalli Fund, among others) and the process of creating several others. Direct financing to indigenous peoples through funds and financial mechanisms led by indigenous people is of fundamental importance, as they promote indigenous well-being, combat the climate crisis, guarantee indigenous peoples’ access to constitutional rights, face structural and historical omission of public power with indigenous peoples, contribute to the implementation of PNGATTI [National Policy for Territorial and Environmental Management of Indigenous Lands] and that the life plans of indigenous territories become reality based on their own forms of organization, respecting the choice of priority with regard to the development process, respecting the traditions, participation and culture of Indigenous peoples” — Josimara Megueiro de Oliveira, Indigenous Fund of Rio Negro – FIRN, South America



    Besides the importance of those funds, Indigenous Peoples still face many challenges and barriers to operate.

    From what was shared, the most relevant ones are:

    — Limited flexibility and knowledge of the context of the communities to implement the funds;

    — Lack of trust from financial institutions;

    — Excess of bureaucracy, requirements and administrative mechanisms and systems that are not suited to the capacities and needs of indigenous communities;

    — Lack of initial investments;

    — Accountability mechanisms that do not respond to the context of the communities;

    — Few trained Indigenous technical staff to support the beneficiaries of the funds and the necessity to reduce operational costs that would support the maintenance of the staff.

    “Donor institutions still lack trust and lack understanding of the diverse capacities of Indigenous Peoples. so, the administrative mechanisms and systems used still use general standards that are not suited to the capacities of Indigenous communities. The capacity of indigenous communities is to work more to manage and protect their customary territories, rather than dealing with matters related to administration. This capacity barrier can be bridged by Indigenous community organizations by developing administrative system models for measuring achievments and reporting that are suitable and can be used by Indigenous communities with simpler technology” — Josimara Megueiro de Oliveira, Indigenous Fund of Rio Negro – FIRN, South America

    “[The challenge is] the initial investment. Starting a new fund requires significant investment from governments, foundations, and aligned corporate partners, some of whom may have very little experience with Indigenous-led funds. Unfortunately, only a very small share of funding for climate and nature programs is allocated to Indigenous-led solutions. And, of that portion, just a fraction is managed by Indigenous-led funds and organizations” — Eddy Adra, Coast Funds, North America

Transforming climate finance

    The Indigenous and traditional communities-led funds are changing the climate finance scenario and bringing innovative solutions to the finance system and mechanisms. At the core of it is the self-determination of Indigenous peoples and local communities to define strategies, priorities and conditions to use the resources. With that, the funds are reaching communities at the frontline of climate change and promoting solutions based on ancestral knowledge, values and practices.

    “IPLC´s led funds have been created with the objective of facilitating and promoting direct territorial investment in favor of IPLCs organisations, conservation of biodiversity and combat to climate change. Likewise, these funds seeks to accompany the organizations in a culturally adapted manner, through the creation and strengthening of capacities, promoting sustainability and positive impacts on the investment on a long term basis” — Maria Pia Hernandez Palacios, Mesoamerican Territorial Fund, Central America

    “Self Determine Development – Funding mechanisms will be effective and efficient if they suit the needs of indigenous peoples. Decentralization according to capacity – funding mechanisms will be effective and efficient if they are appropriate to the diverse capacities of indigenous communities. Getting lower, there should be less administrative work because at the lower levels (Indigenous communities) there should be more work to administer and protect customary territories” — Titi Pangestu, The Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago – AMAN, Asia

    “Indigenous-led funds bring so much depth and scale of impact with significantly lower/ smaller funds; they also strengthen relationships and distribute power that comes with decision-making to indigenous peoples and organizations. Indigenous led- funds are increasingly influencing how traditional grantmakers are operating” — Helen Magata, Tebtebba Foundation, Asia

    “Indigenous communities have been stewarding their territories for millennia. The solution brought into the Great Bear Rainforest and Haida Gwaii was to provide sustainable self-determined financing for each of the communities to determine their priorities, have access to funding in perpetuity through an endowment, and look at conservation finance holistically not only from a environmental lens, but from a human well being lens” — Eddy Adra, Coast Funds, North America

    “The creation of territorial funds led by indigenous people, operating very closely with the supported organizations and communities, allowing direct dialogue and continuous monitoring with beneficiaries, carried out directly in the communities, in the indigenous language and with the intermediation of local leaders. Very different from traditional support in which the financier is a distant agent, with language that is inaccessible and bureaucratic communication not accessible to original peoples. Direct support for projects that come from the communities themselves, meeting demands that would not be supported in any other way, nor would they be brought by agents or organizations external to the supported communities. This contrasts with traditional financing in which projects come from outside the communities, without respecting prior consultation and the demands and forms of organization of indigenous peoples” — Josimara Megueiro de Oliveira, Indigenous Fund of Rio Negro – FIRN, South America


    Even though the Indigenous and Local Communities-led funds exist all over the world, each one of them carries their own specificities, contexts and challenges. This is why we asked each representative to share what is the story behind their funds.

    “In the case of Mesoamerica, 24% of the region’s forests, which holds 26% of the total carbon stored is managed by IPLCs. In Mesoamerica, to speak about forests and biodiversity implies speaking about the rights of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities” — Maria Pia Hernandez Palacios, Mesoamerican Territorial Fund, Central America

    “[We created the fund] so that exiting funding can be more effective, efficient and accountable for strengthening Indigenous community villages, strengthening indigenous community organizations and strengthening Indigenous community movements” — Titi Pangestu, The Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago – AMAN, Asia

    “Titi Pangestu, The Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago – AMAN, Asia” — Helen Magata, Tebtebba Foundation, Asia

    “First Nations have lived in the coastal rainforests of what’s now called British Columbia for thousands of years. Following colonization, settler-owned industries extracted trees, fish, and minerals from First Nations’ territories, with few benefits to First Nations, whose communities experienced extensive cultural, social, and economic damage. Following activism in the 1990s and 2000s, First Nations began working with environmental groups, governments, funders, and industry to chart a different path. First Nations leaders envisioned a new kind of economy: based on conservation and stewardship, with Indigenous-owned businesses creating good local jobs and supporting cultural revitalization.” — Eddy Adra, Coast Funds, North America

    “As a result of the struggle of the Rio Negro Indigenous movement for land and culture, we were born in May 2021, being the first indigenous fund to directly support projects in Brazil. We operate in 13 indigenous lands, in an area of ​​13.5 million hectares, which covers the municipalities of Barcelos, Santa Isabel do Rio Negro and São Gabriel da Cachoeira. Our territory represents the Federation of Indigenous Organizations of Rio Negro (FOIRN) and our public is the network of 91 affiliated indigenous associations, which directly represent the 33 thousand indigenous people who live here.” — Josimara Megueiro de Oliveira, Indigenous Fund of Rio Negro – FIRN, South America


    The best way to understand the importance of the Indigenous-led funds is by understanding the real impact they contribute to generate. To give a better sense on that, we asked the fund managers to share a story of a project or community that has been directly benefited by the fund. Those stories are testimonies of the difference that financial mechanisms led by indigenous peoples can make in addressing real community challenges and promoting innovative solutions, not always valued by the traditional financial systems. We hope those testimonies can help you travel from South America to Asia, from the forest to the desert, getting sense of the richness of traditional wisdom and solutions.

    “ACOFOP in Petén, Guatemala was supported to develop its advocacy process and achieved the renewal of nine forestry concessions and the granting of two new concessions for 25 more years, respectively. RIBCA in Costa Rica promoted the executive decree of the general consultation mechanism, a legal instrument for institutions to carry out consultations under the principle of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC)” — Maria Pia Hernandez Palacios, Mesoamerican Territorial Fund, Central America

    “The field actions carried out by indigenous communities in defending their rights and managing their customary territories are through the indigenous food and economic sovereignty movement. During the project period, AMAN supported two (2) indigenous community economic business groups namely Kenegerian Kuntu and Kenegerian Domo in Kampar Regency, Riau Province. The economic business being developed is chili cultivation and chicken farming on approximately 2 hectares of land and is managed by 25 indigenous youth. This activity is also one of the community’s efforts to carry out land rehabilitation, namely by encouraging indigenous communities to slowly reduce chemical fertilizers and start producing organic fertilizer independently. One way is to use livestock manure as fertilizer (rice and chili).” — Titi Pangestu, The Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago – AMAN, Asia

    “There are so many! One project that’s close to my heart is Nawalakw, which is part healing centre, part culture camp, and part ecotourism destination. Nawalakw is located in the Hada River estuary, in Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw territory. Colonization was devastating to Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw peoples. In order to take Indigenous lands and resources, colonial governments banned cultural practices, like potlatches, and tried to stop Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw peoples from speaking their language, Kwak’wala.Nawalakw is a wonderful example of an Indigenous Nation working to revitalize their culture and language, while stewarding their territories and creating economic opportunities. The first phase of the project – a culture camp – is complete and offers year-round cultural and Kwak’wala language programming. Leaders are working to build a healing village at the site, which will be used as an ecotourism destination in the summer months to generate revenue for cultural programming. Longer term, Nawalakw leadership plans to build an interpretive centre, gallery space, and housing for Guardians and stewards to use while they’re out in the territory” — Eddy Adra, Coast Funds, North America

    “Among so many stories, the one I chose to tell here is that of a women’s project, located in the most distant place in the entire territory of the Rio Negro and its tributaries, on the upper Rio Uaupés, on the border with Colombia. The women of Alto Rio Uaupés, organized in the Association of Indigenous Women of Alto Rio Uaupés (AMIARU), were very concerned about the disappearance in their region of a creeping vine whose leaves are used to produce carajuru, a traditional product very important for the culture of the people who live there, used for body painting, fiber dyeing, blessings and traditional dances. The carajuru plant was practically extinct in the region!

    Autonomously, without financial support, the women of AMIARU gathered carajuru seedlings and decided to build two of the association’s farms to produce the plant in the community of Querari, the last community in Brazil before Colombia. The objective was to produce more seedlings to distribute them throughout the region in the future and eliminate the risk of extinction of the carajuru! However, there was a big challenge to this, they did not have the financial resources to be able to turn this plan into reality. It was at this moment that AMIARU learned about the launch of the first notice of the Rio Negro Indigenous Fund and applied with the project “Revitalization of the Aesthetics of Carajuru Painting”. It was in March 2022 that the Rio Negro Indigenous Fund supported this project with R$50 thousand.” — Josimara Megueiro de Oliveira, Indigenous Fund of Rio Negro – FIRN, South America


    “Promote village projects with direct links to indigenous organizations” — Luiz Penha, Project Manager of COIAB, South America, Brazil

    “Increasing direct territorial financing is key to strengthening  IPLC rights and territory-anchored strategies to combat climate change “– Maria Pia Hernandez Palacios, Mesoamerican Territorial Fund, Central America

    “We must all believe in the capabilities of Indigenous Peoples, and that the capacities of diverse Indigenous Peoples can be bridged” — Titi Pangestu, The Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago – AMAN, Asia

    “Climate actions of Indigenous Peoples can only become successful if this is designed, implemented and monitored together with Indigenous Peoples themselves” — Helen Magata, Tebtebba Foundation, Asia

    “Invest in Indigenous climate and nature solutions. Indigenous peoples make up about 5 percent of the world’s population and protect 80 percent of the planet’s biodiversity. Indigenous peoples have developed strong laws and ingenious stewardship traditions that have helped people live in places for thousands of years without depleting their lands and resources. Intimate knowledge of seasonal patterns and ecosystems has helped Indigenous Nations adapt to changing conditions and manage their territories for the benefit of current and future generations, as well as non-human relatives. In a world where many people have been conditioned to want and to waste, Indigenous knowledge and systems are critical to addressing the climate and biodiversity crises” — Eddy Adra, Coast Funds, North America

    “Increasing support for Indigenous Funds is of paramount importance, but it is also fundamental for this strategy to combat climate change and guarantee the wellbeing of Indigenous peoples to be successful, that financiers who wish to support climate actions pay attention to the demands that the Indigenous and Traditional Peoples Funds have been carrying out efforts to effectively increase the capacity to distribute resources and expand the excellent results that have been achieved. It is no longer time to impose on indigenous peoples and traditional peoples that they have to adapt to the conditions imposed by financiers, requiring, in order to have access to resources that strengthen their traditional ways of life, that political and traditional leaders have to abandon their lives traditional way to become financial managers. It is time for financiers to adapt to the reality of indigenous and traditional peoples and meet their demands, only then can we expand the impact of this type of financing to stop climate change” — Josimara Megueiro de Oliveira, Indigenous Fund of Rio Negro – FIRN, South America