A coalition of indigenous groups in the Amazon has proposed the formation of a conservation area in South America, stretching 200 million hectares (490 million acres) from the Andes in the west to the Atlantic Ocean in the east. If plans were to go ahead, it would be the largest protected area in the world – and amount to a landmass the size of Mexico.
Leaders of the alliance representing 500 indigenous cultures across nine countries presented the project to representatives at the UN Biodiversity Conference, held in Egypt, on Wednesday. The plan: to build a large-scale sanctuary where people, wildlife, and biodiversity can be preserved and protected.
"We have come from the forest and we worry about what is happening," explained Tuntiak Katan, vice-president of COICA (Coordinator of the Indigenous Organisation of the Amazon River Basin), The Guardian reports.
"This space is the world’s last great sanctuary for biodiversity. It is there because we are there. Other places have been destroyed."
This is not the first time such a proposal has been made. With the backing of Ecuador, Columbia was getting ready to present a similar plan at climate talks due to take place in December. But while the project did include plans to protect the region's unique and diverse flora and fauna, these protection rights would not necessarily have extended to the indigenous people who live there. There are also concerns that these plans will be rejected following the election of a right-wing populist, Iván Duque, in June.
Similarly, in neighboring Brazil, the election of a far-right populist, Jair Bolsonaro, in October has environmentalists worried about the future of the Amazon. The country has held ministerial-level debates on plans to create a designated protection zone. However, any follow-through on these plans could be scuppered by the pro-industry Bolsonaro, who has been extremely outspoken about his intentions to open the Amazon to agriculturists and industrialists and has even suggested exiting the Paris agreement.
COICA may have its work cut out to put these plans into practice but Katan remains positive, saying "We know the governments will try to go over our heads...This is nothing new for us. We have faced challenges for hundreds of years."
Unlike nation-states Columbia and Brazil, the group does not recognize the international borders established by colonialists and their descendants without consent from the indigenous population. Their proposal includes not just protection for wildlife and the environment, but protection for the territorial rights of the indigenous peoples who live there.
The group is also appealing for government-level representation at the UN Convention, The Guardian reports, where they hope to partner with NGOs and indigenous communities in other countries.
[H/T: The Guardian]