Researchers from the University of Sheffield have found that tropical deforestation and degradation is lower in Indigenous lands compared to other areas. Deforestation is also more prevalent in protected areas than Indigenous lands. This body of work goes towards understanding deforestation patterns and how to address them.

Spanning Latin America, Africa and Asia, PhD student Jocelyne Sze has observed indigenous lands had up to 20% less deforestation than in non-protected areas. In Tropical regions of Africa, land under Indigenous protection was better preserved than those in Protected Areas, indicating the value of Indigenous ‘guardianships’.

In the Americas, however, the opposite was found with indigenous lands having a higher rate of deforestation. This is theorised to be due to President Jair Bolsanaro’s influence in Brazil and a loosening of environmental policy, making it harder for indigenous peoples to protect their land.

Deforestation is a major global issue, threatening biodiversity and undermining the capacity of  carbon stocks crucial to mitigating climate change. Pristine tropical forest is lost at a rate of 14 million hectares every year, and we are forecasted only 30 years away from total ecological collapse of the Amazon rainforest. After COP26 where more than 100 world leaders pledged almost £14 billion to end deforestation by 2030, understanding rates of deforestation will be vital to addressing this problem.

Jocelyne Sze, lead author from the University of Sheffield’s Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, said: “Indigenous peoples have been saying for decades that they are the best guardians of their homelands, and our results affirm this point. With upcoming international policy discussions on safeguarding biodiversity and climate, this is a particularly opportune moment to recognise and support Indigenous peoples in their efforts both legally and financially.”

Professor David Edwards, senior author of the research from the School of Biosciences at the University of Sheffield, said: “We must support Indigenous communities in our shared goal to deliver on the lofty ambitions of the Glasgow Declaration on Forests to halt deforestation by 2030. Failure to do so will edge us closer towards breaching 1.5C in global temperature rise.”

To read the full article, find it here and the nature paper here.