Issue 6
Tuesday, 07 August 2018
Charles Darwin University
Professor Stephen Garnett
Professor Stephen Garnett

Indigenous people are ‘critical to conservation’

Indigenous people own or manage at least one-quarter of the world’s land surface, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Sustainability.

Professor of Conservation and Sustainable Livelihoods Stephen Garnett, who led the international consortium that developed the maps, said that understanding the extent of lands over which indigenous peoples retained traditional connection was critical for several conservation and climate agreements.

“Not until we pulled together the best available published information on indigenous lands did we really appreciate the extraordinary scale of indigenous peoples’ ongoing influence,” Professor Garnett said.

The 38 million square kilometres owned or managed by indigenous peoples were spread across 87 countries or politically distinct areas and overlapped with about 40 per cent of all terrestrial protected areas.

One of the striking findings of the study was the extent of lands with strong indigenous connections that were little changed by development.

The researchers found that about two-thirds of indigenous lands were essentially natural and in many countries indigenous peoples were taking an active role in conservation. Equally it found huge potential for further collaborative partnerships between indigenous peoples’ conservation practitioners and governments.

The researchers said such partnerships should yield major benefits for conservation of ecologically valuable landscapes, ecosystems and genes for future generations.

Professor Cathy Robinson, of both Charles Darwin University and the CSIRO, said some countries stood out as having significant levels of indigenous engagement with conservation.

“In Australia, nearly half of all protected areas were owned and managed by Indigenous peoples,” she said.

“The coincidence between the interests of Indigenous peoples and conservation is a cornerstone of Australia’s conservation policy.”