Protecting the Amazon and our climate by supporting Indigenous peoples | Amazon Watch
Amazon Watch

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

Amazon Watch resists the destruction of the Amazon by challenging disastrous development projects that threaten Indigenous peoples and their ancestral territories.

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.


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.

End Amazon Crude

Oil drilling in the heart of the Amazon drives deforestation, violates the rights of Indigenous peoples, and exacerbates the global climate crisis. And it continues to expand. As big purchasers and financiers of Amazon crude, policymakers and companies in the United States have a responsibility to take action here at home to End Amazon Crude.

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.

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.”

Advance Indigenous Solutions

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.


Direct Support for Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous movements often lack 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 front lines of the fight to protect Indigenous territories, rights, and the climate.

Indigenous communities in the Amazon rainforest also don’t always have 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.

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 their sacred ancestral territories is not just the right thing 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

Support Climate Justice

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 destruction 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.


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.

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

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.