Egongot IP in Dipaculao, Aurora. Photo by Orange Omengan/ICCA Consortium.

Statement by Peter Kallang, Chairperson of the Southeast Asia Regional Council of the ICCA Consortium.
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Good morning ladies & gentlemen and thanks to the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity for this opportunity. I am delivering this message as the Chairperson of the Southeast Asian Regional Council of the ICCA Consortium, an association of indigenous and community organisations and civil societies. The ICCA Consortium has members in 80 countries around the world. Members in ASEAN are Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, and Vietnam.

The ICCA Consortium’s new report on territories of life adds to the evidence that Indigenous peoples and local communities play an outsized role in sustaining a healthy planet. They do so because of the deep relationships between their cultures, territories, governance systems, and other species and spiritual beings. One of the biggest opportunities to address both the biodiversity and climate crises is to support Indigenous peoples and local communities to secure their rights and their collective lands and territories.

A new spatial analysis co-published with UNEP-WCMC estimates that Indigenous peoples and local communities are actively conserving more than one-fifth of the world’s lands and at least one-third of intact forest landscapes globally. However, they are doing so largely without any form of legal recognition or support.

There are many powerful examples of these findings right here in Southeast Asia. For example, in the Philippines, an estimated 75% of remaining forests overlap with Indigenous peoples’ territories. An assessment of just 10 ICCAs in the country found that they store 10.5 million tons of carbon, equivalent to gas emissions of at least 7 million cars per annum. In Indonesia, over 11 million hectares of Indigenous territories have been mapped across the country. Over 460,000 hectares have been registered and uploaded to a national land rights portal. At least an additional 2.9 million hectares of the country are estimated to be conserved by Indigenous peoples and local communities. 

Territories and areas conserved by Indigenous peoples and local communities are sometimes abbreviated as “ICCAs” or “territories of life”. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Parties have recognised ICCAs in a wide range of decisions at every COP since 2004. A number of countries around the world recognise ICCAs in some form within national and sub-national laws and policies. For example, Malaysia recognises ICCAs in its National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan. Other countries such as the Philippines have strong legal frameworks for Indigenous peoples’ rights. These provide positive opportunities for appropriate recognition and support, which must always be done in accordance with the communities’ rights and self-determination.

However, there is a huge implementation gap between what Parties recognise in the CBD and what is implemented at the national level, just as we see implementation gaps in laws and policies that support the rights and territories of indigenous peoples and communities. In both cases, this is often because social and environmental priorities are trumped by harmful economic industries such as logging, dams, mining and infrastructure in our homelands without our free, prior and informed consent, and in one too many instances even at grave risk to the lives of our families, communities and peoples. Some examples where we face these deep concerns are in the Tumandok and Dumagat-Agta-Remontado territories in the Philippines, in the Baram Peace Park in my homeland of Sarawak, Malaysia, and in the internationally recognized Salween Peace Park in Karen territory in Myanmar.

As the UN negotiations on the post-2020 framework intensify, the time is now to recognise Indigenous peoples and local communities as the true agents of transformative change. Supporting us to secure our rights and collective lands and territories of life is arguably a key ‘missing link’ in global commitments and national level implementation – and therefore, also one of the biggest opportunities for leadership and convergence.

On behalf of the ICCA Consortium’s membership in Southeast Asia, we are calling on the ASEAN member states to:

  • Recognise the outsized contributions of Indigenous peoples and local communities to biodiversity, including by expediting the appropriate legal recognition of their rights and collective lands and territories of life.
  • Recognise human rights as central to an effective and equitable post-2020 global biodiversity framework and ensure minimum safeguards to prevent human rights violations in the name of conservation.
  • Protect Indigenous peoples and local communities against violence when they are defending their territories of life against threats, and halt the industrial drivers of biodiversity loss.
  • Support communities’ self-determined initiatives to strengthen and sustain themselves and their territories.

Thank you.

Peter Kallang is the current Chairperson of the Southeast Asia Regional Council of the ICCA Consortium. Peter is Kenyah, one of Borneo’s Indigenous ethnic groups, from Sarawak, Malaysia. He is the founding chair of SAVE Rivers Network (an ICCA Consortium member), a coalition of 8 non-governmental organisations and society-based organisations that mobilize the defense of indigenous territories and frontier landscapes against the construction of hydroelectric dams in Sarawak, Malaysia.

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