Our Work

Protecting the Amazon and our climate by supporting indigenous peoples

Since 1996, Amazon Watch has protected the rainforest and advanced the rights of indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin. We partner with indigenous and environmental organizations in campaigns for human rights, corporate accountability, and the preservation of the Amazon's ecological systems.

Our work is focused on three main priorities:
Stop Amazon Destruction | Advance Indigenous Solutions | Support Climate Justice

Stop Amazon Destruction

Stop the destruction of the Amazon by development projects that threaten indigenous peoples and their ancestral territories

Amazon Watch resists the destruction of the Amazon by challenging disastrous development projects and natural resource extraction and by promoting indigenous rights.

The Amazon is the world's largest terrestrial carbon sink and plays a critical role in regulating the global climate. Yet this global treasure is at great risk – already more than 20% has been deforested, and new fossil fuel extraction, mining, large-scale hydroelectric dams, and highways cause even greater deforestation and run roughshod over indigenous people's rights and territories. Amazon Watch protects millions of acres of rainforest every year by partnering with indigenous peoples – the best stewards of the forest – to directly challenge the corporate and government powers that threaten the Amazon and our climate.

LEARN HOW WE WORK TO STOP AMAZON DESTRUCTION

Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground in the Amazon

The science is clear: we have to keep two-thirds of fossil fuels in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change, so why are we looking for more? We need to start keeping oil in the ground, and the Amazon is an important place to begin.

"To avoid exacerbating the climate crisis and to return to a healthy relationship with Mother Earth, the vast majority of the world's fossil fuels must remain in the ground. Governments must put the needs of people and communities above corporate profits by taking bold and immediate action to end fossil fuel extraction because the natural world can no longer wait."

Keep It In The Ground Pledge

The Amazon rainforest is one of the most biodiverse places in the world and plays a critical role in regulating the global climate. Yet the oil deposits deep underground are of greater interest to oil companies than the than the rich biodiversity above. Expanding fossil-fuel production in this region results in more emissions and deforestation, and the loss of its carbon sink capacities.

Expanding oil drilling deeper and deeper into the Amazon requires building new roads that pave the way for additional deforestation, and contaminates the land and soil in the world's most biodiverse rainforest. Forests are cleared for roads and pipelines, opening new access arteries for agro-industrial activity and colonization. What's more, this drilling largely occurs in the territories of indigenous peoples who have resisted oil extraction for many years.

Current Campaigns:

End Amazon Crude

Despite this clear need to End Amazon Crude, a thriving market for Amazon crude drives the ongoing expansion of oil operations into some of the Amazon rainforest's most pristine regions, which has devastating impacts for the Amazon's biodiversity and indigenous peoples, refinery communities in the United States, and our global climate.

The vast majority of this crude is currently imported into the U.S., and California's refineries are the worst offenders, processing an average of 170,978 barrels (almost 7.2 million gallons) of Amazon crude every day. The state processes roughly 60 percent of all exports of Amazon crude from Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia and 74 percent of those that come to the United States.

Public and private diesel fleets in California – and across the US – can End Amazon Crude by pledging to transition to Amazon-free operations.

Stop Investing in Amazon Destruction

Fossil fuel companies couldn't keep expanding the fossil fuel frontier deep into the Amazon rainforest were it not for the institutions financing that expansion.

Amazon Watch research revealed that financial institutions like JPMorgan Chase – the biggest U.S. bank – and BlackRock – the world’s largest asset manager – are funding the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and the violation of indigenous rights. While these two companies like to talk about the importance of social responsibility, we know it's their actions that really count.

GeoPark out of Achuar territory

The Achuar of Peru, whose territory lies in the northern Peruvian Amazon close to the border with Ecuador, have a long history of defending it from oil companies. In 1995, the Peruvian government divided up sections of the country into oil blocks and one – Block 64 – overlaps much of Achuar ancestral territory.

Since that time, various international oil companies have attempted to extract oil from Block 64, including ARCO, Occidental, and Talisman, all of which eventually abandoned operations. But in October 2014, GeoPark, a small Chile-based firm, decided it could be successful where others failed, and it purchased rights to explore for oil in Block 64. Since then, the 45 Achuar indigenous communities under the umbrella of the Federation of the Achuar Nationality of Peru (FENAP) have once reiterated their opposition to oil operations within their ancestral territory on multiple occasions.

"We strongly reject oil companies. Why? Because today we know very well that oil companies entered into other indigenous peoples' territories or even into the lands of the Achuar people in the Corrientes River and left a series of spills. Seeing these negative consequences, we are united in saying that we totally reject oil exploitation within the territory of the Achuar People under FENAP."

FENAP President Jeremías Petsein

Confront Destructive Industrial Development

The Amazon rainforest and indigenous territories are threatened by industrial development projects, including the creation of massive hydroelectric dams, mineral mining, and the construction of industrial water and railways to transport these natural resources. In the face of the environmental and social costs many indigenous communities oppose this kind of "development."

Current Campaigns:

Shuar opposition to Chinese copper mining in their territory

The Shuar Arutam nation is composed of 60 communities of about 6,000 members whose territory covers an area of nearly 470,000 acres in the Condor mountain range along the Ecuador-Peru border. Those mountains house an ecosystem of great biological importance given the high levels of endemic species of flora and fauna, and are also home to the headwaters of an important river network, including innumerable waterfalls of great importance to the Shuar's cosmovision. They believe that their highest deity, Arutam, lives in those waterfalls. For this reason, they are known as the People of the Waterfalls.

The Shuar find their lives and way of life under threat since the Ecuadorian government has sold concessions to part of their territory for an open-pit copper mining project known as San Carlos-Panantza run by the company Explocobres S.A. (EXSA), a subsidiary of two Chinese state-run companies. The project consists of thirteen mining blocks and covers an area of 41,700 hectares (103,000 acres).

Stop the Belo Sun gold mine

Belo Sun, a Toronto-based company, plans to build Brazil's largest gold mine on the banks of the Amazon's Xingu River. The sprawling nearly 620 square-mile concession would become Brazil's largest open-pit gold mine, straddling the territories of three indigenous peoples and other traditional communities that are already reeling from the many social and environmental impacts of the disastrous Belo Monte hydroelectric dam.

Brazil's political and economic assault on the Amazon

Brazil's remote Amazon heartlands are threatened by industrial developments like massive hydroelectric dams, deforestation for livestock, invasive extraction projects such as mining, natural gas and oil drilling, and the construction of industrial waterways to transport these natural resources.

Powerful political and economic interests – especially the ruralista agribusiness lobby – are accelerating infrastructure expansion to reap short-term profits without heeding enormous social and environmental costs. Continued development at this scale is unsustainable, and many forest communities oppose the detrimental impacts of these industrial projects on their lands, livelihoods and health. Amazon Watch supports local Brazilian communities in their ongoing fight for basic human rights as well as their efforts to preserve the Amazonian rivers and rainforest.

Deforestation for palm oil plantations in Peru

The expansion of oil palm plantations is an emerging threat to the Amazon in Peru and beyond. The rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia have been devastated by oil palm, a legacy that does not bode well for the Western Hemisphere. And oil palm is not the only culprit – other agricultural products including cattle are large-scale drivers of deforestation and represent threats to the indigenous communities that have made a home of these lands for hundreds if not thousands of years. In the Peruvian Amazon, the community of Santa Clara de Uchunya is fighting to protect its ancestral territory from the sometimes-violent encroachment of palm oil companies, and Amazon Watch supports them.

Advance Indigenous Solutions

Advance indigenous-led alternative development solutions to climate change, natural resource extraction, and industrial development

Amazon Watch supports and promotes indigenous-led alternative solutions to climate change, natural resource extraction, and industrial development

The knowledge, cultures, and traditional practices of our indigenous partners contribute greatly to sustainable and equitable stewardship of the Amazon and all of Mother Earth. Amazon Watch promotes these indigenous-led solutions, such as green development and autonomous solar power, and expands capacity for indigenous leaders, especially women, to maintain their autonomy and sovereignty for the stewardship of their ancestral territories.

LEARN HOW WE WORK TO ADVANCE INDIGENOUS SOLUTIONS

Solar Power for Amazon Protectors

Though the oil companies still fight it, the fossil fuel age is ending. Today, in the Amazon, indigenous people are leading by example and embracing clean energy while defending the living forest. They're the true climate leaders.. Lighting the way for the future of our climate and our forests, these indigenous earth defenders know the solution to climate change must include stopping the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

Amazon Watch and our indigenous allies are forging solutions to our climate crisis by embracing clean renewable energy and using that power to protect the vital Amazon rainforest. Experience and science have shown the most effective way to protect forests is to defend the rights and territories of their original inhabitants.

Permanent Protection of Indigenous Ancestral Territories

Many indigenous peoples hold sacred the natural world and their relationship with it. For them, "development" does not mean highways and oil wells, but rather a sustainable relationship between humans and the natural world. Indigenous sacred territories must be protected from extractive industries while continuing to permit community subsistence activities.

Working with indigenous peoples to protect not their sacred ancestral territories is not just the right things to do: it's also the best thing to do for the climate. Extending legal forest rights to indigenous communities has been definitively shown to be the most successful mechanism for maintaining or improving forests' carbon storage and lowering emissions and deforestation.

Amazon Watch works with our indigenous partners to promote and protect "No Go Zones" – World Heritage Sites, sacred natural sites, territories and primary forests on which mineral and other resource extraction is prohibited, and in which indigenous communities have the final say about the economic activity that takes place.

"Of course we want development, but not the type of development that abuses the forests, air, water, and land. We want our own model."

Blanca Chancosa of the Ecuadorian indigenous federation, CONAIE

Current Campaigns:

"Living Forest" – a visionary proposal from Sarayaku

The Kichwa people of Sarayaku, in the Ecuadorian Amazon, have a visionary proposal: Kawsak Sacha – the "Living Forest". Kawsak Sacha is a comprehensive vision for living in harmony with the natural world based upon the practices with which their ancestors have sustainably inhabited and cared for the health of the Amazon Rainforest for millennia.

The proposal calls for legal protection of the "Living Forest" that includes recognition of Sarayaku territory as a Sacred Territory, Biological and Cultural Patrimony of the Kichwa People in Ecuador and "No Go Zone" for oil, mineral and lumber extraction. Though the Kawsak Sacha proposal is specific to Sarayaku, it serves as a model for sacred territories across the Amazon and around the world.

Kawsak Sacha profoundly challenges dominant concepts and practices, which view nature as a resource to market, commodify and exploit without limit, instead prioritizing maintenance of the ecological balance of the Amazon is essential to Earth's health and capacity to mitigate climate change. The idea of a Living Forest also challenges the idea that we can put forests into carbon trading schemes and other market mechanisms as a means of addressing climate change.

Protection of the U'wa's sacred Zizuma mountain

Zizuma is the U'wa name for the majestic mountain that lords over the U'wa's ancestral territory in northwestern Colombia. It plays a unique and central role in their spiritual cosmovision, serving as the resting place of their divine beings, the source of spiritual wisdom for their Werjaya (traditional authorities). The mountain is so sacred that it is not to be looked upon directly and only the Werjaya are authorized on rare occasion to climb its slopes in search of communication with the natural world.

As with many indigenous sacred sites, the mountain's intrinsic beauty and energy has attracted others. Known to non-U'wa as El Cocuy, this mountain has become a destination for tourists and alpine mountain climbers, and Colombia's El Cocuy National Park overlaps significant sections of U'wa territory in addition to Zizuma.

The U'wa's struggle to regain control of Zizuma embodies the tension between traditional conservation practices – like establishing national parks – and indigenous sacred sites. This tension exists because traditional conservation practices did not usually respect indigenous territorial rights, and instead often led to cultural destruction and displacement.

"No Go Zones" recognized by international bodies

International Organizations like the United Nations or the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) have a crucial role to play in promoting and assuring protections for "No Go Zones," and Amazon Watch pushes them to play that role

At its annual conference in 2016, members of the IUCN – an international organization whose membership includes 217 government agencies, more than 1,000 civil society organizations from over 160 countries, and 15,000-plus volunteer experts in 185 countries – voted overwhelmingly to adopt Motion 26. Titled "Protected areas and environmentally damaging industrial­ scale activities," the motion promotes the concept of "No Go" policies that prohibit mineral and other resource extraction in World Heritage Sites, sacred natural sites, territories and primary forests. IUCN members also approved Motion 48 (to protect primary forests), and to give indigenous peoples official status at the IUCN.

Sacred Headwaters of the Amazon

The Napo, Pastaza, and Marañon Rivers, located in Northern Ecuador and Peru – form the headwaters of the mighty Amazon River. In these river basins, the ancestral territories of a dozen indigenous nations are adjoined by a number of protected areas, together forming a vast contiguous mosaic containing the most biologically diverse terrestrial ecosystem on Earth.

To protect this ecologically significant ecosystem, ensure the legal rights of its indigenous stewards, and help ensure a livable climate future, Amazon Watch, Pachamama Alliance, and Terra Mater have joined together to form the Amazon Sacred Headwaters Initiative, aimed at permanently protecting these 60 million acres of tropical rainforests.

The Sacred Headwaters Initiative aims to convene indigenous peoples, NGOs, the philanthropic community, and governments to establish a bi-national protected region off-limits to industrial scale resource extraction and governed in accordance with traditional indigenous principles of cooperation and harmony that foster a mutually enhancing human-Earth relationship.

Direct Support for Indigenous Peoples

Technical support, training, and on-the-ground accompaniment

Indigenous communities living in the Amazon rainforest don't always have such easy access to education and technology. Amazon Watch provides technical support and training in areas such as geo mapping and indigenous rights law. We also provide on-the-ground accompaniment to partner organizations and communities at key moments like mass mobilizations, hearings in legal battles, and more.

Channel outside support for our indigenous partners

Indigenous communities living in the Amazon rainforest don't always have easy access to the funds they need to carry out activities to defend their territories and their rights. Amazon Watch channels the support of foundations and major donors to communities, organizations, and leaders on the frontlines of the fight to protect indigenous territory, rights, and the climate.

Support Climate Justice

Support the indigenous movement for climate justice across the Americas

Amazon Watch joins with the climate justice movement to address the fact that the most vulnerable – especially indigenous people and people of color – bear the brunt of environmental destruction, corporate greed, and climate change and are often excluded from top-down solutions.

Addressing climate change and environmental destructive must also redress past harm, bring bad actors to justice, support activists who put their lives on the line, and build solidarity. Amazon Watch holds governments and corporations accountable, defends Earth Defenders against threats and attacks, holds open the doors of the international stage for our indigenous partners, supports bonds of solidarity between indigenous peoples, and channels outside support for our indigenous partners.

LEARN HOW WE WORK TO SUPPORT CLIMATE JUSTICE

Stand With Earth Defenders Under Threat

Across the Amazon, Earth Defenders face threats and attacks for their activism in defense of rivers, forests, the climate, and territorial rights. Some call these activists environmental human rights defenders; others refer to them as earth rights defenders, environmental and land defenders, or environmental activists. All are names for a collective of local community leaders and members, indigenous community leaders, environmental activists, and others acting to protect land, water, forests, biodiversity, animals, and the rights of communities to serve as stewards of those resources.

At least 365 Earth Defenders were killed in Amazon countries between 2010 and 2015, more than half of them in Brazil. Earth Defenders also face countless non-lethal attacks and threats, including smear campaigns, death threats, physical attacks, hacking and spying, and harassment by way of intelligence and judicial systems.

Advance Corporate and Government Accountability

All too often, multi-national corporations operating in the Amazon basin cause significant environmental destruction – widespread deforestation and pollution in particular – while also violating the rights of the local people. And governments let them get away with it. Amazon Watch works to bring these corporations and governments to account for the harms they have caused while also protecting the rights of those threatened by future projects.

Current Campaigns:

Hold Chevron to account for its mess in Ecuador

While drilling for oil in Ecuador's Amazon rainforest region, Texaco – which merged with Chevron in 2001 – operated without concern for the environment or local residents. The company deliberately dumped billions of gallons of toxic wastewater into rivers and streams, spilled millions of gallons of crude oil, and abandoned hazardous waste in hundreds of unlined open-air pits littered throughout the region. The result is widespread devastation of the rainforest ecosystem and local indigenous communities, and one of the worst environmental disasters in history.

Due to Chevron's toxic contamination of their soil, rivers and streams, and groundwater, local indigenous and campesino communities continue to suffer an epidemic of cancer, birth defects, miscarriages, and other ailments. Chevron has never carried out a meaningful clean up of the mess it is responsible for, and its infrastructure continues to poison the communities of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Today, more than 30,000 Ecuadorians are fighting for justice with an international campaign and a landmark class action lawsuit in Ecuadorian courts. Despite Chevron's repeated efforts to sabotage the trial, the local people remain determined to hold Chevron accountable, demanding clean-up costs and compensation for the devastation the company caused.

Demand governments protect indigenous peoples and the environment

Today, indigenous lands hold much of the world's remaining natural resources – oil, ore, gas, timber, fresh water – and often the territories through which the transport infrastructure must be constructed to carry those commodities to market. This push further and further into indigenous lands and fragile frontier ecosystems has set the stage for increased conflict between the state, the private sector, and indigenous peoples, pitting indigenous rights against resource rights.

At the root of these conflicts is the failure of companies and governments to have properly sought the consent of the very communities affected by the proposed projects. That failure more and more results in a losing prospect for all three stakeholders involved – the communities, the companies, and the governments.

A crucial component of this accountability is the Declaration on Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the universal standard on the rights of indigenous peoples. And while it remains technically non-binding, UNDRIP is the benchmark by which governments and companies are judged with regard to respecting indigenous rights. A major pillar of UNDRIP is the principle of Free, Prior, Informed Consent (FPIC), which enshrine the right to consent of indigenous peoples over culture, land, property, resources, and conservation, and which provide guidelines for a process of engagement and negotiation between indigenous peoples and the state.

Solidarity among indigenous peoples across the Americas

Indigenous peoples across the Amazon, across the Americas, and around the world face similar attacks on their rights, resources, and territories. The indigenous rights movement is global, and solidarity between indigenous campaigns to defend their collective rights makes those movements stronger. Amazon Watch supports these connections and opportunities to share knowledge between indigenous peoples within the Amazon and beyond the Amazon basin.

Center Amazon indigenous voices in climate change solutions

Too often, the voices of indigenous people and other affected communities are ignored by world leaders making major decisions, like how to respond to climate change. Amazon Watch supports our partners, and partners with others, to help them speak truth to the powers that be about the solutions that center indigenous voices and respond to the systemic causes of climate chaos. Indigenous peoples have solutions for climate justice. World leaders need to listen to these solutions and take real action to confront climate change. The Amazon, Mother Earth and our future generations are depending on us to ensure our critical voices are heard.

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