Hundreds of millions of dollars in climate finance have been pledged to helping indigenous people manage their territories, but all of that money now flows through intermediaries. Here’s how the Amazon’s largest federation of indigenous organizations aims to change that.
24 June 2015 | BONN/BARCELONA | Indigenous leader Juan Carlos Jintiach says he was ecstatic when governments around the world pledged $1 billion to end deforestation at last year’s climate summit in New York. He especially liked Norway’s pledge of $20 million per year to help indigenous people secure their rights. But he also knew what would happen next, as NGOs around the world quickly submitted proposals, and Norway issued a short-list of 53 finalists.
“In the end, only five indigenous organizations were invited to present final proposals,” says Jintiach, who at the time had just stepped down as Director for Economic Development of pan-Amazonian indigenous federation COICA.
“That’s how it always is,” he says. “We’ll be talking to governments directly, and asking them why they always have these bilateral government-to-government discussions, and then we’ll see $100 million change hands, and we’ll say, ‘What’s that for?’, and they’ll say, ‘That’s for indigenous people.'”
Chris Meyer of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) says that at least $50 million in funding linked to reduced deforestation or “REDD+ finance” has already been allocated for indigenous people, but it’s in limbo, scattered among the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, the UN-REDD Program, and the Forest Investment Program – and that’s after he deducts 20% for administration and overhead.
“It’s not that the programs are doing anything nefarious,” he says. “It’s just that they’re bureaucratic and need to see a lot of things happen before they can release money.”
“I understand their reasoning,” says Jintiach. “They can’t just dump a bunch of money on us – I understand the need for accountability – but I think we can deliver that accountability.”
The Birth of the Indigenous Amazon Fund
In the last few years of his tenure, Jintiach had a front-row seat at the grant games, as COICA teamed up with NGOs like EDF, Woods Hole Research Center, and even Ecosystem Marketplace publisher Forest Trends to secure direct funding from large donors like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which is supporting a consortium of NGOs, including COICA, under a program called AIME, which helps indigenous people access REDD+ finance.
Under Jintiach’s current boss, Edwin Vásquez Campos, COICA has been working to ready itself for REDD+ finance, and at mid-year climate talks in Bonn, COICA’s head of Environment, Climate Change and Biodiversity, Jorge Furagaro Kuetgaje, announced the creation of an Indigenous Amazon Fund that can act as a kind of central bank for indigenous people across the Amazon.
Two weeks later, Campos announced that COICA would also seek to establish a more forceful presence in multilateral organizations like the Governors’ Climate and Forests (GCF) Task Force, which is a network of subnational governments and governors working to address climate-change multilaterally.
At the GCF annual meeting in Barcelona, COICA was joined by Central America’s AMPB, the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests.
“We’re at the Table”
“We believe we share many common characteristics and core beliefs with the jurisdictions represented in the GCF,” the AMPB declaration stated. “We actively participate in the region´s REDD+ processes, emphasizing the importance of community forest rights, and offering our experiences as key lessons and cornerstones for addressing deforestation in our jurisdictions.”
COICA’s statement was more prescriptive and called for active indigenous participation in the development of national climate action plans, or INDCs (Intended Nationally-Determined Contributions), and asked for a signed agreement with the GCF recognizing COICA participation in strategic planning and implementation.
The Evolution of the Amazon Indigenous Fund
Jintiach, who now is an analyst in COICA’s Economic Development Cooperation, says the Indigenous Amazon Fund is being created based on feedback from donor nations and with support from EDF and other NGOs.
“Juan Carlos raised this issue with us last year, when we were working with him on the indigenous mapping project [which was announced at climate talks in Lima],” says EDF’s Meyer. “He’s been working with us ever since to see how we implement it, and also talking to donors to get a better feel for what they look for.”
The fund proposal will be refined at a series of COICA meetings, beginning in August, but Jintiach and Meyer both say some basic ground-rules have already been established.
“One thing is clear: COICA won’t be running it,” says Jintiach. “We’re spearheading it, but we’re not a bank, and we don’t want to become one, and donors won’t want that, either.”
Based on donor feedback, COICA and others are now suggesting the creation of a non-profit entity, with an independent board of directors as well as an advisory board, says Meyer.
“This is still nebulous and to be determined, but there is this window in the next six months for indigenous leaders to consult among themselves and figure out what they want,” he says. “With COICA, we need to help to build a lot of capacity to understand how these administrative mechanism funds work, based on existing intermediary funds like Funbio (the Brazilian Biodiversity Fund), and we can then help them create a proposal that’s hopefully good enough for Norway to say, ‘OK, we’re going to put whatever is left [of the $100 million pledged] directly into this indigenous fund, and hopefully get other countries to contribute to it as well.'”
“Once the fund exists, if donors want to give to indigenous peoples, we can say, ‘Here is a fund for indigenous peoples,'” says Jintiach. “If they need to see transparency, we can say, ‘Here are the books.'”
Although REDD+ finance was the impetus for creating the fund, it’s ultimately designed to handle banking, loans, and other financing operations.
“Something like Canopy Bridge, which is a platform for indigenous producers to market their products, could be supported through the fund,” says Meyer.
“Exactly,” adds Jintiach. “In Ecuador, we developed an indigenous cacao cooperative, but the benefits go to intermediaries, because the banks, they ask for lots of requirements that we as indigenous people find difficult.”
He says an Indigenous Amazon Fund would better be able to assess indigenous programs for their viability because it would be run by people who understand indigenous business practices.
“We need a financial institution that understands how our economies work on the ground,” he says. “Our people need to develop their own economies.”
Jintiach expects to have a formal proposal by the end of August, and Meyer estimates the start-up costs at less than $1 million.
“This is really for the next generation,” says Jintiach. “For my generation, this kind of finance was all new to us, but kids today understand its importance. They’re the ones who will move this forward.”