case study

Elevating Indigenous Peoples’ Voices at COP27


In 2021 and 2022, Indigenous peoples and local and Afro-descendant communities (IPLC) worldwide received unprecedented recognition and support from scientific and conservation communities for their role in protecting precious biodiversity and the tropical forests that are vital in the battle against climate change. 

The release of major scientific reports by the United Nations and other high-profile NGOs and academic centers supported the announcement of the world’s first financial pledge to advance the rights of IPLCs at the 2021 UN climate change meeting known as COP26. 

Nonetheless, despite obtaining groundbreaking consensus on the need to strengthen tenure security for IPLCs as an important solution to combat climate change, Indigenous leaders continued to report rising tides of violence and criminalization against their peoples. Furthermore, their legal petitions for land rights and direct financing continued to move at a snail’s pace, in the face of red tape and other forms of resistance from powerful economic and political interests. 

To address such obstacles and encourage government, business and financial leaders to invest in IPLCs and advance the quest of communities for strong tenure, Burness was asked by Indigenous organizations, their funders and allies to identify strategic opportunities for engaging with media at the UN climate change conference in Egypt, COP27. Burness was asked to promote an analysis of progress on the $1.7 billion pledge to directly support Indigenous Peoples and local communities. The report revealed that funders were on track with dispersing funds, yet only a small percentage of the money reached organizations led by Indigenous peoples or local communities.

Against the backdrop of long periods of severe drought and extreme weather in Africa, and growing awareness of an intensifying energy crisis in Europe, it became clear that journalists who intended to cover COP27 would be hard to reach with alternative narratives. We would be competing with hundreds of side events and reports, and organizations clamoring for attention; experience told us it would be hard to pitch stories centered on forests and forest communities at Africa’s first UN climate conference. 


To position forests and the demands of IPLC communities in the media coverage of the upcoming COP27 event, Burness set out to identify and promote newsworthy research in the lead up to the conference. 

After a series of conversations with several of the Ford Foundation’s partners and grantees, Burness identified a new upcoming study from the University of Melbourne, The Land Gap Report, on the importance of protecting tropical forests in global efforts to fight climate change. 

With the researchers as strategic partners, Burness suggested organizing a virtual press conference one week ahead of COP27. It would feature report authors and Indigenous leaders with the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities (GATC), an alliance that represents 35 million forest peoples from 24 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. 

Burness drafted a statement on behalf of the GATC and promoted the virtual briefing to environment journalists globally. The experts and Indigenous leaders presented the key findings of the report, delivering the message that strengthening the rights of IPLCs is the most cost-effective, scientifically-proven solution for preventing the deforestation that fuels climate change, pandemic risk and biodiversity loss. 

Following the launch of The Land Gap Report, Burness began to promote the findings of the IPLC Forest Tenure Pledge progress report under embargo to top-tier climate correspondents and reporters attending the COP27 conference. 

Burness drafted a press release on behalf of the Ford Foundation and a statement on behalf of the GATC, and organized embargoed interviews for key climate correspondents with Indigenous and philanthropy leaders, as well as with climate finance experts. Burness also pitched the World Leaders Summit side event on the ground, interesting the Agence France-Presse and The Independent in attending the event in person. 

To continue the drumbeat of stories on the role of IPLCs in combating climate change throughout the remainder of the two-week conference, Burness promoted one-on-one interviews with leaders on topics linked to various news hooks throughout the event. 

These included a potential new loss-and-damage fund; the announcement of a new alliance between Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and the creation of a new alliance of 41 grassroots women’s organizations from Asia, Africa and Latin America. To take advantage of these news hooks, we drafted pitches and media advisories, and organized interview opportunities throughout the conference for reporters who were covering the conference in person and remotely. We also drafted and placed an opinion piece on behalf of Levi Sucre, an Indigenous Bribri leader from Costa Rica and co-chair of the GATC.


Our efforts to elevate the role of tropical forests and IPLCs in the fight against climate change in the media coverage of the COP27 conference yielded significant results. The virtual briefing held in advance of the UN event attracted top-tier reporters with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Grist and InsideClimate News, amongst others, and inspired media coverage in dozens of outlets including the Financial Times and Reuters

More than 45 environment and climate change correspondents requested the IPLC Forest Tenure Pledge progress report. Efforts to promote the progress report, along with interviews with IPLC leaders, resulted in more than 80 original news stories published in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Dutch and Indonesian Bahasa. Highlights included Agencia EFE, BBC, Devex, Deutsche Presse Agentur, El Espectador, Inside Philanthropy, Nation Africa, Reuters, The Guardian, and Valor Economico

By securing coverage in a range of top-tier and philanthropy publications, including an opinion piece in The New York Times, our efforts ensured that the role of forests, and the importance of securing land rights for IPLCs, was highly visible in coverage of the COP27 UN event. 

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