Avaaz urges immediate action at 7th GEF Assembly

Empower Indigenous Peoples to Conserve Biodiversity to Stop Wildfires


August 24, 2023

/ By / Paris

Avaaz urges immediate action at 7th GEF Assembly

Canada has seen the most severe wildfire in its history, affecting all 13 provinces and scorching over 15.5 million hectares of mostly untouched forests

At the ongoing 7th Assembly of Global Environmental Facility, Avaaz, an NGO, has called for immediate action to stop wildfires as well as for the empowerment of indigenous peoples to conserve biodiversity.

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The summer of 2023 has been one of the worst in Canadian history, at least in terms of wildfires that had gripped vast tracts of Canadian forests, affecting all the 13 provinces and impacting over 15.5 million hectares of what was mainly virgin forest. So bad was the situation that not just Canada, but even large parts of northern United States, and especially along the Canadian border, were covered in thick smog for weeks.

It is in this backdrop that the 7th Assembly of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) began in Vancouver on August 22. On the occasion, various activist organisations, notably Avaaz, have said that the wildfires in the province that is hosting this international meeting hopefully will ignite a sense of urgency on the need to put financial resources to address or prevent natural disasters exacerbated by climate change and biodiversity loss.

The Assembly is the GEF’s highest governance body, composed of all 185 member countries and participants. The Assembly is usually held every three or four years, but this time, the Assembly is being held after a gap of five years, due to the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The previous Assembly was held in Vietnam in 2018.

In a press statement, Avaaz underlines the reasons for its call for urgent actions. It says that it is likely that only one more Assembly will be held before 2030, the date in which the Sustainable Development Goals should be achieved, as well as the end-date of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. This is of special importance to the GEF as it has accepted the responsibility of adopting and operationalizing the Global Biodiversity Framework Fund on an interim basis.

Avaaz says that it is convinced that this is a pivotal moment for the GEF to undertake a comprehensive reevaluation of its mission and capacities, to evolve into a true agent of change to accompany the world in the ecological transition that is needed to secure the planet’s existence. ‘‘We hope that the state of emergency in British Columbia, the province that is hosting the GEF assembly, will create a real sense of urgency in the negotiations and the international community will come together with concrete actions and funding to address disasters triggered by climate change and biodiversity loss,’’ says Avaaz in a press statement, adding that Avaaz believes that a broad-ranging and deep reflection needs to take place during the 7th Assembly and has identified core areas for deliberation.

The GEF works across the globe to promote more climate-resilient countries, including developing capacity to adapt to the ever-increasing intensity of hydrometeorological events, wildfires, flooding, and other natural disasters. In turn, these events are caused by the effects of climate change and loss of ecosystems. GEF support for peatland, forest and protected areas normally include addressing threats such as illegal logging, fire control and management, securing carbon stocks and biodiversity loss. GEF encourages knowledge management to support developing countries through shared experiences to see what has worked best and what can be tried in new parts of the developing world.

Avaaz says that as has been seen this summer in Canada, and as we speak in Baja California with Hurricane Hilary that is now reaching California as the first tropical storm in more than 80 years to make landfall, these events do not discriminate between developed and developing countries. Emergency response to these events stretch budgets and technical capacities in high-income countries, highlighting the need for increased coordination, training and financial support between developed and developing countries.

‘‘In our view, the new GBF Fund should build on GEF’s experience and mobilize more funding for urgently needed capacity building in the most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change and biodiversity loss. Best practices from the GEF agencies should be more extensively catalogued and applied in the field to guide knowledge management. It is clear that there is also much to be learned from Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) in their role as Chief Ecological Officers. We need to collectively support them and to humbly learn from them on how best to address disasters like the wildfires, and overall on how to protect Mother Earth,’’ says Avaaz.

In the face of unprecedented and catastrophic wildfires raging across the globe, Avaaz, a global online movement of 70 million members around the world, urged the 7th GEF Assembly to prioritise indigenous peoples’ role in preventing wildfires and conserving biodiversity.

In a letter to the GEF Assembly, Avaaz called on the Assembly to ensure direct access to funding for Indigenous Peoples, and as the GEF’s maximum decision-making body to develop a clear path of action for the GEF Secretariat and the Council in its 65th meeting in December. This is of importance as the Assembly will convene only once more before the 2030 deadline for the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework targets to be implemented.

With wildfires wreaking havoc in British Columbia, where the meeting is taking place, but also in many other areas around the world, like Hawaii, the Amazon and the Congo basin, Avaaz stressed the pivotal role of Indigenous peoples in preventing them and safeguarding biodiversity.

‘‘Indigenous peoples have a close relationship with their territories, based on their integral knowledge systems. Their territories are the least degraded, but at the same time they are the most threatened, including by fires caused by human action, directly or indirectly. This is an opportunity for the GEF Assembly to rectify historical injustices and provide the necessary financial support for indigenous peoples to strengthen their leadership in the fight against major climate challenges, including forest fires,’’ says Colombian Indigenous leader Dario Jose Mejia Montalvo, who is also Chair of UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII).

“The time for half-measures has passed; now is the moment to confront this crisis head-on. Recognising the vital significance of indigenous knowledge and practices, Avaaz is calling on the Assembly for robust and direct financial support to empower Indigenous peoples in their critical roles and efforts. The GEF, responsible for supporting developing countries in meeting objectives of multiple conventions, must rise to this moment of urgency. As fires continue to engulf vast swathes of ecosystems, the GEF must prioritize indigenous-led ecosystem and fire management strategies and provide the necessary financial resources to empower indigenous peoples to continue protecting our planet,” says Oscar Soria, Avaaz campaign director of Avaaz.

Avaaz says that the GEF’s mandate to align efforts across conventions is now more critical than ever. From the Convention on Biological Diversity to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, and the Minamata Convention on Mercury, the GEF must ensure that indigenous knowledge and practices are at the heart of all programming decisions. Only by fully integrating indigenous-led strategies can we hope to address the escalating environmental crises, it says.

Indigenous communities, with their generations of land stewardship and fire management expertise, hold the key to preventing catastrophic wildfires. Yet, despite their unparalleled understanding, they continue to be underfunded and overlooked. The fires in Canada’s British Columbia and around the world serve as stark reminders of the urgency of this matter. Human lives and livelihoods are being lost or endangered, ecosystems are being decimated, wildlife habitats destroyed, and cultural heritage threatened. These wildfires are not isolated incidents but represent a global catastrophe that demands a united response, says Avaaz.

It has also asked the ongoing GEF Assembly to take numerous steps to deal with the situation. It has called for immediate allocation of financial resources to empower indigenous peoples to execute effective forest management practices, a key measure to prevent and tackle wildfires. These communities are on the frontlines, and their expertise must be harnessed to prevent further devastation, it says.

It has also called for facilitating direct involvement of indigenous peoples in policy-making, ensuring their traditional knowledge shapes wildfire prevention strategies. Another measure recommended by Avaaz is to establish a rapid-response mechanism to address emerging wildfire crises, allowing indigenous peoples to take the lead in managing and mitigating disasters.

It has called for greater accountability by the private sector in wildfire prevention, in particular agribusiness and commodities sectors, as well as recognition of the critical role indigenous-led efforts

play in protecting the planet. It warns that the 7th GEF Assembly represents a turning point and failure to act decisively now could lead to irreversible damage. ‘‘The devastating wildfires serve as a dire warning that the time for complacency is over. The world is ablaze, and we must act with urgency to protect our planet’s future,’’ says Avaaz.



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