Frontpage > Environment and Development > Sustainable Development

Sustainable Development and Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous peoples' distinct livelihoods depend on access to land and natural resources and sustainable development is therefore an issue of crucial concern to indigenous peoples all over the world.

All kinds of economic development and growth which include building of infrastructure and the transformation of natural ecosystems, pose a special risk to the physical, social and cultural survival of indigenous peoples and to their traditional occupations and environmental knowledge.

Many of the so-called ‘green’ forms of energy, such as hydro power and bio-fuels, involve the destruction of indigenous peoples’ territories and livelihoods.

It is therefore of utmost importance to ensure special safeguards for indigenous peoples and to promote the respect of their rights to Free, Prior and Informed Consent in all decisions that affect their rights, lands and resources now or in the future as spelled out in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Indigenous peoples plays a vital role for sustainable development

Indigenous peoples have vital knowledge of how to develop, implement and monitor sustainable natural resource management.

The recognition of indigenous peoples as a major group by the UN Conference on Environment & Development (the Earth Summit) held in 1992, was a breakthrough enabling the political participation of indigenous peoples in processes relating to sustainable development.

Indigenous peoples' participation in the global discussion on sustainable development 

In 2002 the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg, South Africa, acknowledged the potential of indigenous peoples as 'stewards' of national and global natural resources and biodiversity and reaffirmed the important role of indigenous peoples in sustainable development. However, translating this political recognition into concrete advances locally, nationally, regionally and internationally has remained a challenge.

During the Summit indigenous peoples' representatives submitted a document known as the "Kimberly Declaration" and defined a Plan of Implementation for the next decade. 

In June 2012 indigenous peoples gathered in Rio, Brazil, for the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development. Together with world leaders and civil society representatives from all over the world they tried to move the global sustainable development agenda forward. 

A decade after the Johannesburg Summit, mainstream development interventions in the form of mining, oil and gas exploitation, plantation agriculture etc. was encroaching on indigenous peoples' lands and territories at an unprecedented level, threatening their sustainable development and survival as peoples. 

It was also widely agreed that indigenous peoples has not been granted enough attention in the development and implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.

An outcome of the Rio+20 Conference was to adopt a new series of universal sustainable development goals (SDG’s) that address the challenges and shortcomings of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s).

Dealing with issues such as inequality, water, education, health, governance and environmental sustainability, the SDGs will set the precedent for future global sustainability and the post-2015 development framework and thus have a direct influence on the lives of millions of indigenous peoples.

For indigenous peoples it was thus imperative that the post-2015 development agenda and the Sustainable development goals, targets as well as indicators should reflect indigenous peoples’ rights and their relation to their lands, territories and natural resources and take their special vulnerabilities and strengths into consideration.

As one of the 9 'Major groups' Indigenous peoples have had access to contribute directly to the UN processes dealing with the post-2015 development agenda discussions.