Climate change is closely connected to global deforestation. While preventing deforestation has an immediate effect in reducing C02 emissions, reforestation programs often take over twenty-five years to have an impact. In turn, a combination of strategic partnerships across countries and between organizations and Indigenous forest stewards is needed to combat global deforestation.

The world’s forests are carbon sinks, absorbing “a net 7.6 billion metric tonnes of CO2 per year.” Deforestation raises greenhouse gas emissions levels and is detrimental to biodiversity. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Global Forest and Resources Assessment 2020 reports that approximately, “420 million hectares of forest were lost due to deforestation between 1990 and 2020.” Furthermore a reforestation report released by McKinsey notes that roughly ten million hectares of land are deforested on an annual basis, for commercial and agricultural purposes. Stopping deforestation has an immediate impact of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

On June 29, 2023, the European Union (EU) Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) was passed. The new law comes into full effect in December 30, 2024. Under the EUDR, “goods exported or placed on the EU market must… no longer contribute to deforestation and forest degradation in the EU and elsewhere in the world.” These goods include a wide range of pulp and paper products (including books), meat and leather products, chocolate, soybean and soybean products, palm nuts, palm oil and derivative products, wood, and lumber, just to name a few. The impact the EUDR will have on commercial industry is yet to be fully documented; however, a key challenge for governments will be to ensure corporations follow EUDR’s standards for corporate due diligence.

Reforestation and sustainable wildlife management are vital components to combatting global deforestation and protecting the livelihoods and cultures of Indigenous peoples worldwide. For example, the Mbuti Indigenous People who live in the rainforests of the Congo Basin have witnessed both rapid deforestation and the depletion of their Indigenous food supply due to the increase in the commercial hunting and trade of wild meat. The Sustainable Wildlife Management Program, a joint initiative of African, Caribbean and Pacific states, funded by the Democratic Republic of Congo, the European Union and co-financed by several countries, and international organizations, is intended to protect the ecosystems and food security of the Mbuti.

Indigenous Peoples are considered the world’s best forest guardians. For example, in the Amazon, the deforestation of lands under Indigenous tenure is “two to three times lower than outside these areas.” In another example, as stewards and guardians of forests, the McLeod Lake Indian Band in South Mackenzie, British Columbia, planted over six million trees in 2021 and 2022, in partnership with Tree Canada, to reforest areas that were decimated by spruce beetle. According to Tree Canada, this tree planting project – part of their Green Program – “advances natural reforestation by thirty years.” Natural reforestation involves trees renewing through self-seeding or through other methods.

Combatting global deforestation requires multiple approaches, partnerships across countries, and sustained support for Indigenous forest guardianship.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image Credit: Annie Spratt, Unsplash)

Solid waste management is a climate change issue. The decay and combustion of solid waste contribute to greenhouse gas emissions in the form of methane and nitrous oxide. Indigenous communities that do not have adequate solid waste management systems face challenges to their health, safety, land and water. Additional funding and community education can benefit Indigenous communities to meet the environmental challenges of solid waste management more effectively.

Solid waste is often referred to as garbage. Solid waste management involves “collecting, treating, and disposing of solid material,” which is thrown away because it is deemed to be no longer useful. If waste is not managed properly, it can result in environmental pollution, vector-borne diseases spread by rats and insects, and outcomes associated with poor sanitation. Improper waste disposal techniques in managing landfill wastes can result in the leaching of contaminants (i.e., leachates) into well water, ground water, and surrounding surface waters (e.g., lakes, rivers, and streams).

Two First Nation communities facing challenges to solid waste management are those of the Garden Hill First Nation and Wasagamack First Nation in Northern Manitoba. In 2018, a research study outlined how both Garden Hill and Wasagamack communities resorted to open dumping and burning toxic waste, including styrofoam and electronic waste (i.e., e-waste) in backyards disposal pits, because of poor infrastructure for safe and effective solid waste disposal and management. The study asked Indigenous community members to identify key issues in solid waste management that required attention; these included:

  • Lack of waste management for toxic wastes including plastic and e-waste.
  • Lack of funds dedicated for waste management.
  • Lack of curbside waste collection, leading to the proliferation of multiple community garbage dumps, including in backyards, and close to homes.
  • Lack of enforcement of environmental regulations by federal governments on dumping by off-reserve contractors.
  • How “reserves provide a black hole for toxic waste, stewarded products, and recyclables.”

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) has called for funding for First Nation communities to increase the capacity of landfill and transfer stations, to store or accommodate wastes, and to innovate sustainable solutions to solid waste management. Projects like a proposed engineered wetland in Wasagamack First Nation hold the potential to reduce the adverse effects of leaching and its residual effects. The human-made wetland would use phytoremediation—a mitigation practice of introducing native plants in former disposal pits to reduce the concentration of leachates contaminating the environment. Educational projects like the Seventh Generation Waste Warriors are also promising, to inform Indigenous youth about how to develop waste diversion projects in their own communities. The lack of funding to both rural and urban Indigenous communities for solid waste management is corroborated in a 2021 report by Indigenous Services Canada that evaluated the First Nations Solid Waste Management Initiative (FNSWMI), a program that funds Indigenous solid waste management initiatives.

Indigenous communities need adequate and sustained funding to design, operate, and maintain solid waste management systems. Community education programs that foster collaborative approaches also deserve focused attention.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image credit: Sara Cottle, Unsplash)

Prioritizing Indigenous rights and supporting innovative Indigenous practices are required to achieve a sustainable future and are crucial to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The race to meet SDG targets by Year 2030 is heavily focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs); however, globally, Indigenous communities are not responsible for these high levels of GHGs. Indigenous communities have been integral in the fight to reduce GHG emissions through innovative practices like traditional fire management. Yet, Indigenous peoples remain among the most affected by climate change and its impacts on a global scale, because of their interconnectedness with Mother Nature, the land, and all that it offers.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 calls for “ensuring the availability of sustainable water management and sanitation for all”; however, in Canada, for decades, many First Nation communities have gone without clean drinking water. Canada’s federal government has promised to ensure clean drinking water to all First Nation reserves by March 2021; however, there are now fears that this deadline will not be met.

Frustrated by government inaction in addressing the clean water crisis in their community, Lytton First Nation, (pop. 1,660 people) located in the Fraser Canyon, British Columbia, connected with RES’EAU-WaterNet, at the University of British Columbia. Together, they built the Lytton-Nickeyeah Creek Water Treatment facility in 2015, bringing clean water to the homes spread out over 56 reserves across 14,161 acres. The RES’EAU also worked in consultation with community members, leaders, and water operators at Lytton First Nation, to find a collaborative, creative, and affordable way to bring clean water to additional homes (some over 100 kms apart) that were too isolated to benefit from the larger treatment facility.

According to Alliance 2030, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the UN SDGs should be considered in concert with each other, if the 17 SDGs are to be met by 2030 and “achieve basic rights like clean water and equality for all.” The International Fund for Agricultural Development in their 2019 policy brief made several recommendations to advance collaborative policy solutions and to recognize Indigenous rights to land and intellectual property, in order to meet the SDGs.

Successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is based on the premise of “leave no-one behind”. Canada’s 2018 Voluntary National Review acknowledged that Indigenous peoples and other “historically marginalized groups…still face unacceptable barriers”. Any attempt by countries to involve Indigenous communities as partners in sustainable development may be a step forward to meet the 2030 Agenda; however, when the basic rights to education and clean water are not guaranteed for Indigenous peoples, these calls for collaboration must be questioned. Indigenous peoples at the forefront of sustainable development innovations and climate change adaptation in Canada have declared a climate emergency. Realizing the SDG goals requires non-Indigenous governments to prioritize the protection of Indigenous rights if they also seek the collaboration of Indigenous peoples.


By Leela Viswanathan

(Image Credit: Carter Hildebrand, Unsplash)