Invisible no longer: the Afro-Interamerican Forum on Climate Change (AIFCC) at COP 27

November 30, 2022

The Afro-Interamerican Forum on Climate Change (AIFCC), in collaboration with the MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative (ESI), convened leaders from around the Americas and the world at the 27th UN Conference of the Parties (COP27) this month in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. The annual summit, the site of international climate negotiations, provides an important opportunity for independent organizations like the AIFCC to gather, build support, and advocate for neglected areas of climate action.

Panelists discuss “the climate contributions of Afro-descendant territories” at COP27. From left: Kelvin Alie (Conservation International), Marcela Angel and Angelica Mayolo (MIT ESI), Solange Bandiaky-Badji and Omaira Bolanos (Rights and Resources Initiative)

The AIFCC’s goal is to elevate the expertise and perspective of Afro-descendant populations throughout the Americas on climate issues. Originally founded by Luis Gilberto Murillo, current Colombian Ambassador to the United States; Kelvin Alie, Senior Vice President of Conservation International; Epsy Campbell, Former Vice-president of Costa Rica; and U.S. Congressman Gregory Meeks, the forum presented a unified voice for Afro-descendant communities in this global arena.

At a COP27 side event on November 15 convened by MIT ESI, the Government of Colombia, and Conservation International, the AIFCC brought together leaders from Colombia, Panama, the United States, Honduras, Guyana and Brazil and presented recent work that estimates that there are over 178 million individuals who identify as Afro-descendant living in the Americas, with the highest concentrations in Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Surinam, French Guyana and the Caribbean. The event highlighted that high concentrations of Afro-descendant peoples in certain regions are legacies of settlement patterns associated with the abolition of slavery, and more recently with the recognition of collective land titles.

“Afro-descendant peoples live in lands of global environmental importance. There is a significant overlap between biodiversity hotspots, protected areas, and areas of high Afro-descendant presence, but the role and climate contributions of these communities is understudied, and often invisibilized,” said Marcela Angel, ESI’s Research Program Director.

Members and partners of the AIFCC meet outside COP27. From left: Josefina Klinger (Mano Cambiada), Angelica Mayolo and Marcela Angel (MIT ESI), Raisa Banfield (Fundación Panamá Sostenible), Heiny Palacios (Environmental Youth Network, Chocó)

Angelica Mayolo, MIT ESI AIFCC Fellow and moderator of the event, highlighted the needs and the role of the AIFCC in conducting research to identify, document and disseminate best practices and successful cases in Natural Climate Solutions, creating a network of Afro-descendant leaders to co-create and share knowledge, and creating regional hubs to incubate and accelerate community-based green business initiatives.

The opening remarks featured representatives from the Colombian and UK Government and AIFCC members Robert Asprilla and Julio Guity-Guevara. David Lammy, Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs of the United Kingdom and an Afro-descendant global leader with roots in Guyana, highlighted the need for collective environmental action led by Afro-descendant communities in the Caribbean. Francisco Canal, Deputy Minister of Environmental Planning for Colombia, connected the support of Afro-descendant peoples’ environmental efforts to issues of peace and stability.

“Promoting sustainability is essential to the families that protect the forests in the country,” said Canal. “There won’t be total peace if the ecosystems are destroyed, and there is no sustainable future if it is not working hand in hand with the Afro-descendant communities.”

The event showcased the work of Rights and Resources Institute mapping the presence of Afro-descendant peoples, who are living on over 146 million hectares of land. Conservation International provided scientific evidence from Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil and Suriname that forest loss rates are increasing both within the recognized Afro-communities’ lands and their buffer areas, although the trend is relatively lower within the recognized lands. Moreover, Kelvin Alie, Senior Vice President for Field Partnerships in Global Field Programs at Conservation International, presented ongoing research that estimates that there are 1.63 billion tonnes of carbon in these lands, and 362 million tonnes of irrecoverable carbon, underscoring the significance of Afro-descendant stewardship of natural resources for climate mitigation.

Panelists discuss “empowering local leadership” at COP27. From left: Alicia Montalvo (CAF Development Bank of Latin America), Josefina Klinger (Mano Cambiada), Angelica Mayolo (MIT ESI), Raisa Banfield (Fundación Panamá Sostenible), Heiny Palacios (Environmental Youth Network, Chocó), and Jimena Niño (ACDI VOCA)

But the real protagonists of the event were long-time Afro-descendant defenders of the environment, including Raisa Banfield, Heiny Palacios and Josefina Klinger, who discussed work being conducted on the ground from sustainable eco-tourism to participatory research with youth populations. “In territories of environmental wealth, the human geography is as fragile as any other ecosystem,” said Josefina Klinger, Director of Mano Cambiada, of her work in Nuqui, Colombia.

With the support of the Development Bank of Latin America CAF, USAID ACDI-VOCA, the Open Society Foundations, and the government of Colombia, the event and the AIFCC’s larger participation at COP27 offers a new paradigm for climate action that elevates traditional knowledge and creates wealth in communities facing socio-economic exclusion. At COP27, AIFCC members forged new avenues for global collaboration and solidarity—moving the narratives of these communities into mainstream dialogue.