Momentum Building for Global Agreement That Protects Primary Forests at UN Conference on Nature Preservation

December 7, 2022
From Canada to the Amazon, 100 Indigenous and civil society organizations back Moratorium on industrial activity in primary forests

Tiohtià:ke, Unceded Kanien’kéha territory (MONTREAL, QC) – A new international alliance is calling on world leaders to include explicit protection for primary forests as part of the Global Biodiversity Framework being negotiated at the U.N.’s biodiversity meetings (COP15) in Montreal this week.

The Primary Forest Alliance is calling for an immediate moratorium on industrial development in primary forests, which are defined as naturally regenerating forests that have never been industrially developed or logged. The Alliance represents organizations from around the world and so far has over 100 signatories, including the Pan-Amazonian Indigenous federation COICA,, One Earth, the Sierra Club, NRDC, the Society for Conservation Biology, Patagonia, and many others.

“Primary forests are irreplaceable ecosystems. They have a unique and essential  capacity to maximize the benefits forests provide,” said Cyril Kormos, Director of the Primary Forest Alliance. “It’s not an exaggeration to say that there is no solution to either the biodiversity crisis or the climate crisis unless we protect our remaining primary forests.”

Primary forests protect by far the most terrestrial species (over two-thirds of all terrestrial species) and the largest terrestrial carbon stocks, and also provide many other ecosystem services. Their protection is therefore essential to mitigate multiple overlapping crises from climate change to extinctions to freshwater access to pandemics. Only about 27 percent of the world’s forests are primary forests, and they are being destroyed at very high rates – at least 4.5 million hectares a year over the last thirty years (139 million hectares since 1990), though official statistics greatly underestimate the full extent of the loss. Delegates from around the world at COP15, also known as the United Nations Biodiversity Conference, are negotiating new international agreements – but so far, the text of these agreements does not include specific protection for primary forests.

Meanwhile critical forest ecosystems are threatened all over the planet from the Canadian Boreal to the Congo Basin and Amazonia to Indonesia.

“Given the tipping point crisis that the Amazonia is in the midst of, it is critical to protect primary forests and ecosystems from extractivism and the accompanying pollution that follows,” said Gregorio Mirabal, General Coordinador, Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA). “Nearly 300 million hectares in the Amazonia are primary forests. Indigenous territories are home to a third of these ecosystems.  The world at unison is recognizing that Indigenous territories are the best preserved lands and home of 80% of the remaining biodiversity on Earth. Expanding indigenous rights and territories is a vital path to protecting primary forests for our future generations.  If we do not take action today, this might be the last time we can discuss the future of the Amazonia.”  

Primary forests have been managed by Indigenous peoples around the world for thousands of years, and are essential to Indigenous rights, culture and livelihoods. Indigenous people and land defenders also face disproportionate violence as a result of ongoing colonialism and industrial extraction, and the Primary Forest Alliance is also calling for immediate action to protect forest defenders and provide full financial support for impacted communities as part of a moratorium.

Governments have always argued available funding for conservation was limited. But we spend almost a trillion dollars each year subsidizing fossil fuels and timber extraction – and well over a trillion on environmentally harmful subsidies when additional sectors, such as industrial agriculture, mining and unsustainable freshwater infrastructure are included. The activities these subsidies support in turn generate huge social costs – from climate change to freshwater shortages to biodiversity loss – which total many trillions of dollars. Redirecting these harmful subsidies to primary forest protection would generate hundreds of billions of dollars for protected areas, Indigenous Peoples and local communities, providing environmentally beneficial economic alternatives to communities dependent on timber extraction, and saving trillions in climate change and other social impacts.

Similarly, climate finance could also provide a very large boost to primary forests. Only a tiny fraction of climate funding – about 3% – currently goes to forests, and an even smaller amount goes to primary forest protection, despite the fact that primary forests contain vast amounts of carbon, a fraction of which would cause catastrophic warming if released. Greatly scaling up climate change funding for primary forest protection would provide massive biodiversity and climate change benefits.

Redirecting environmentally harmful subsidies and reallocating and scaling up climate finance could provide substantial funding for primary forests in the short term. The problem is not lack of funding; the problem is the political challenge of achieving this reallocation.

Groups are invited to join the moratorium call here at

Additional quotes:

“Our old growth is so important to who we are as a people. Everything lives off the roots of the old growth forest. Let’s heal our forests, let’s heal our waters, and the people will heal with it. It’s about the future generations ahead of us, it’s not about us.” – Kwakwaka’wakw & Kwakiutl chief Walas Namugwis David Mungo Knox

“If we are to achieve real reconciliation in Canada, the government needs to add land to the conversation. By recognizing Indigenous values in connection to land, it will help protect biodiversity and sequester carbon. Each goes hand in hand to healthy environment.” – Kwakwaka’wakw & Ma’amtagila chief Mak’wala Rande Cook, Awinakola Foundation

“In British Columbia, the most biodiverse and carbon-rich primary forests are being levelled, including to make way for fracked gas and tar sands pipelines through Indigenous territories, and to burn in coal-converted plants abroad for dirty electricity. As we contend with the overlapping biodiversity and climate crises, Canada has to step up and pledge to end all types of primary forest destruction — rooting all actions in Indigenous rights and sovereignty, urgent funding for Indigenous Nations and impacted communities, and support for Indigenous-led land use visions and resilience planning.”- Tegan Hansen, Senior Forests Campaigner,


Media contacts: 

Cyril Kormos Executive Director, Wild Heritage

Virginia Young Policy Director, Australia Rainforest Conservation Society

Ziona Eyob, Media Director – Canada,, +1 604 757 7279

Interviews available in English, French and Spanish