By Sebastien Malo
NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - With world leaders converging in New York to sign a landmark climate deal, activists along with actor Alec Baldwin called on Thursday for a halt to deforestation, a contributor to global warming, by giving indigenous people rights to their land.
Keeping indigenous tribes from being pushed off their land would help protect forests that absorb planet-warming greenhouse gasses, they told reporters in New York City.
The climate change agreement, which commits world nations to lower greenhouse emissions, is slated to be signed by leaders and key officials of more than 150 nations on Friday.
Rapid deforestation threatens the goal of the climate deal, negotiated last fall in Paris, to limit warming, Baldwin said.
"If we keep chopping down tropical forests at the rate we're doing now, we're lost," said Baldwin.
"People need to hear and understand that technology alone is not going to save us from climate disaster," he said.
The responsibility lies with governments to keep indigenous people on their land, said the actor, who starred in the popular television series "30 Rock."
Failing to provide them with land titles "leaves the very heroes that are working tirelessly to protect and defend the world's forests from illegal logging and from extractive industries very vulnerable," he said.
Commercial farming, cattle production and timber collection are among industries faulted for clearing forests, particularly the Amazon, and stripping native inhabitants of their way of life, Baldwin and others said.
"Forests act like the lungs of our planet," said Helen Clark, head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). "If we didn't have lungs, it would be brutal."
If forests were protected, they could be capable of absorbing nearly a third of global emissions, they said.
Diana Rios, an Asheninka indigenous leader whose tribe in Peru recently received title to some 80,000 hectares of Amazon forest, said she takes enormous pride in helping preserve the land's ecosystem.
"It's not only for me, but for the entire world," she said.
Efforts to protect the rain forest have turned violent, she said. Her father and three other people were killed by illegal loggers in 2014, and intimidation continues, she said.
"It weighs heavily ... but I am not defeated," said the mother of three children.
"On the contrary, it emboldens me to stay the course as an indigenous woman," she said.
(The story is refiled to fix headline)
(Reporting by Sebastien Malo, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)