The Indigenous World 2024: Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous Peoples have been engaging in relevant processes on sustainable development since the Earth Summit (Rio Conference) in 1992. The main advocacy agenda issues for Indigenous Peoples in these processes are the respect, protection and fulfilment of the rights of Indigenous Peoples as affirmed by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), as well as the full and effective participation of Indigenous Peoples in the development, implementation, monitoring and review of action plans and programmes on sustainable development at all levels.

The main mechanism of engagement is the Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development (IPMG), which is a forum for coordination and planning. The IPMG sustained its engagement in the Post-2015 Development Agenda. This was coordinated officially by two Organizing Partners (OPs) accredited by UNDESA as part of the nine recognized Major Groups that can officially participate in the SDG processes at the global level. The two OPs are Tebtebba Foundation (Indigenous Peoples´ International Centre for Policy Research and Education) and the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC), both of which also act as the facilitators/co-convenors.

The implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the national, regional and global levels is critical for Indigenous Peoples. It provides opportunities for, as well as threats to the respect, recognition and protection of Indigenous Peoples, and to pursuing their self-determined development as well. For 2023, the IPMG facilitated/coordinated the participation of Indigenous Peoples’ representatives in the UN Water Conference, regional and subregional SDG forums in the Asia Pacific region, the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), and the SDG Summit. As a member of the Voluntary National Review Task Group of the Major Groups and other Stakeholders, the IPMG supported Indigenous Peoples in Tanzania and Guyana and civil society representatives in Cambodia and Timor-Leste to provide inputs to and drafting of their collaborative civil society statement for the VNR of their respective countries and their actual participation in the HLPF.

Engagement of Indigenous Peoples in relevant SDG processes at the national, regional, and global levels remains low. This can partly be attributed to insufficient awareness of the SDGs and a lack of opportunities for engaging in the SDG process. Further, access to information is lacking, particularly on the impact of the SDGs and measures to achieve them, as well as how this is impacting their daily lives. Indigenous Peoples and their territories continue to face increasing threats from external development projects that are adversely impacting their livelihoods and the peace and security of their communities.

At the same time, Indigenous Peoples continue to be invisible in the SDGs and in the indicators themselves, due to a lack of data disaggregation by ethnicity in official data and statistics. The challenges faced and the contributions made by Indigenous Peoples to achieving sustainable development are often not recognized. Indigenous Peoples remain invisible, often being clustered together under the broader category of vulnerable groups. Failure to disaggregate data and address the specific contributions of and challenges faced by Indigenous Peoples seriously endangers the pledge to leave no-one behind and reach the furthest behind.

The 2023 High-Level Political Forum (HLPF)

The 2023 HLPF convened under the theme: “Accelerating the recovery from the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at all levels.” It conducted in-depth reviews of specific SDGs, namely SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities) and SDG 17 (partnerships for the goals), discussing their interrelationships and the overarching impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their progress. Statements[1] prepared and delivered by the Indigenous Peoples’ representatives highlighted the following:

  • The transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, including mining of critical minerals needed in the production of clean technologies, is adding to the multiple challenges facing Indigenous Peoples. Critically, the transition is exacerbating land grabbing and violations of their lands, territories and resources. For the transition to be just, Indigenous Peoples are calling for recognition and respect of their collective rights, especially their right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) and increased support for initiatives on decentralizing energy access through community-led renewable energy systems.
  • Economic disparities have deepened in many countries, especially during the pandemic. Indigenous Peoples are disproportionately left behind. These disparities are further exacerbated by the impacts of climate change and ongoing conflicts and wars. As a result, during the HLPF, Indigenous Peoples called strongly for a need for decisive and immediate action to reverse this trend and close the gaps. This includes transforming the current exploitative and unsustainable economic system to ensure that public interest and welfare are the drivers of an equitable global economic system underpinned by sustainability. It also includes implementing mandatory policies and measures for responsible and accountable business and for equitable trade relations and agreements. Effective participatory mechanisms for the economic empowerment of marginalized and discriminated communities are likewise essential to reach those furthest left behind.
  • Indigenous Peoples face the same challenges across low-, middle- and high-income countries. These include a lack of recognition of their collective rights, especially to their land and resources, and discrimination. Compounding this is the difficulty Indigenous Peoples have in accessing support for their needs and priorities given that official development aid is often limited, or not provided to those living in middle-income countries.

Further, during the official session of the Major Groups and Other Stakeholders (MGoS), Director of Indigenous Peoples Rights International (IPRI), Joan Carling, delivered a keynote on behalf of Indigenous Peoples. She emphasized the need to address structural inequalities and systemic discrimination, both of which were highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to advance the SDGs. She stressed the importance of tackling issues such as racism, unequal access to healthcare and education, together with the digital divide. Carling called for prioritizing investments in public health, education and infrastructure to improve access for marginalized communities. She also highlighted the need for economic recovery plans to transform exploitative systems and prioritize the needs and rights of Indigenous Peoples. Carling advocated for transparency, accountability, democratic governance and urgent action for environmental sustainability. She underlined the importance of international cooperation based on social justice and equity to address the gaps in achieving the SDGs.[2]

SDG follow-up and review: Voluntary National Review

Thirty-nine countries[3] presented their Voluntary National Review (VNR) this year, including the first regional VNR by the European Union. The VNR is important in the follow-up and review process as it reports on how states are progressing in their implementation of the SDGs. Indigenous Peoples from Guyana, the United Republic of Tanzania, Timor Leste, Cambodia, and Canada participated in the civil society process to ensure that the concerns and recommendations of Indigenous Peoples were included in the civil society collaborative statements that were delivered in the respective VNR sessions of their countries. Indigenous Peoples in said countries also conducted bilateral outreach and dialogue with their respective governments. In the most positive cases, this resulted in their participation in producing their government’s official VNR report.

A key reflection from the 2023 cycle is that Indigenous Peoples’ engagement in the VNR process still needs to be strengthened. Ensuring the active and meaningful participation and engagement of Indigenous Peoples is essential but, while doing so, states must ensure that mechanisms and support are in place to ensure that this participation takes place across all efforts to achieve the SDGs. This reflection is also stated in the 2023 VNR synthesis report[4] where it is reiterated that:

[R]egular and inclusive reviews of progress at the national and sub-national levels should be country-led and country-driven, drawing on contributions from indigenous peoples, civil society, the private sector and other stakeholders, in line with national circumstances, policies and priorities, and with support from national parliaments as well as other institutions.

2023 also saw issues around reprisals, harassment, and threats against Indigenous Peoples and civil society engaging in relevant SDG processes, including in regional and global fora. Indigenous Peoples must be guaranteed their rights and must be enabled to speak out on the realities happening on the ground. Reprisals, harassment and threats cannot be tolerated.

The VNR synthesis report[5] further states that countries who report on their VNRs must identify vulnerable groups and those furthest behind, and that this clustering of vulnerable groups includes Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous Peoples have criticized this clustering and reference to vulnerable groups, without any disaggregation for Indigenous Peoples in the SDG reports and official documents. In these reports, the use of this clustering to refer to all groups and persons needing to be empowered, without recognition of the intersecting challenges they face and the unique contributions to development they make, does a disservice to them. Further, clustering at this level and the failure to disaggregate increases their invisibility and there is an inability to track how these policies and action from duty bearers contribute to their vulnerability. This invisibility particularly contributes to an environment in which development policies and projects that do not recognize and respect their rights continue to be implemented and advanced under the guise of sustainable development.

Like other marginalized groups in society, Indigenous Peoples face specific challenges and have specific needs and priorities aligned with their right to self-determined development. Reliable and robust data collection and analysis is needed, especially data disaggregation by ethnicity, disability, and other characteristics in order to better inform the policies and programmes of states as to the diverse development needs of its constituencies.

The displacement of Indigenous Peoples from their territories to make way for conservation areas or game reserves, the market-based climate solutions that are being implemented by states without the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of affected Indigenous Peoples, the non-inclusion of Indigenous Peoples in the VNR process as well as in the overall development process, and harassment and threats against Indigenous Peoples defending their territories, all feature among the concerns raised by Indigenous Peoples during the VNR session in the HLPF.

To ensure just and sustainable development, the SDG follow-up and review process must be grounded in human rights. Local-level review processes should be ensured and inputs to these must feed into the VNRs. Mechanisms to include citizen-generated data in VNR reports should also be put in place if the VNR reports are to be truly reflective of the country situation in relation to its progress in achieving sustainable development.[6]

Midway there but nowhere near

In 2019, progress had been noted in some targets. However, in 2023, according to the Global Sustainable Development Report 2023,[7] the SDGs are in peril, “owing to slow implementation and a confluence of crises”. For Indigenous Peoples and civil society, we are midway to 2030 but nowhere near achieving sustainable development. In the SDG Summit Political Declaration, Indigenous Peoples put forward the following recommendations, which were not adopted by states in the final text:[8]

  • For states to work in partnership with Indigenous Peoples to address their specific concerns, needs, and priorities.
  • To ensure access to, ownership, and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance and other resources, and access to credit, financial resources and services for women and girls, including Indigenous women and girls.
  • To increase investment in mother tongue-based education.
  • For states to commit to ensuring the sustainable management of forests and the protection, restoration, conservation and sustainable use of important landscapes; to recognize the vital role Indigenous Peoples play as stewards of the forests and biodiversity; and to commit to protecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and international human rights law.
  • To include reference to Indigenous and traditional knowledge as a form of scientific knowledge.
  • To strengthen data collection and analysis, including data disaggregation by ethnicity, disability and other characteristics.

These points are also being put forward in the ongoing negotiations for the Pact for the Future, which will be formally adopted by states in the Summit for the Future on September 2024.[9]

The IPMG continues to argue that states must go beyond “pledges and/or commitments” in addressing the multiple crises the world is now facing. Concerted action to protect the people and the planet by transforming the global economic system and practising principles and values related to sustainability, social justice and equity, non-discrimination and respect for cultural diversity, cooperation and global solidarity are all needed for us to attain a development that benefits all peoples and the whole planet.



Article prepared by the Indigenous Peoples’ Major Group on the SDGs.


This article is part of the 38th edition of The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced. The photo above is of an Indigenous man harvesting quinoa in Sunimarka, Peru. This photo was taken by Pablo Lasansky, and is the cover of The Indigenous World 2024 where this article is featured. Find The Indigenous World 2024 in full here


Notes and references

[1] Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development. “IPMG Statements and Interventions Documents.”

2 High Level Political Forum 2023. UN WEB TV. “9th Session of the HLPF.”

[3] Bahrain, Barbados, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brunei Darussalam, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Canada, Central African Republic, Comoros, Chile, Croatia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, European Union, Fiji, France, Guyana, Iceland, Ireland, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Maldives, Mongolia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, St Kitts & Nevis, Tajikistan, Timor-Leste, Turkmenistan, United Republic of Tanzania, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Zambia.

[4] UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. “2023 Voluntary National Reviews Synthesis Report.” December 2023.

[5] UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. “2023 Voluntary National Reviews Synthesis Report.” December 2023.

[6] See for example the ongoing work of UNSD. UNSD. n.d. “Collaborative on Citizen Data”

[7] UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. “Time of Crisis, Times of Change: Science for Accelerating Transformations to Sustainable Development.” September 2023.

[8] United Nations. “Political Declaration of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development Convened under the Auspices of the General Assembly.” 2023.*1q5h2f3*_ga*Mjc5NDQ5NDA4LjE2MDMxNDUzNDU.*_ga_TK9BQL5X7Z*MTY5NjM0NTIzNi4xMjEuMS4xNjk2MzQ4MzE0LjAuMC4w

[9] United Nations, “Pact for the Future Zero Draft | United Nations,” n.d.,

Tags: Land rights, Global governance, Climate, Human rights, Biodiversity, International Processes



IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting and defending Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Read more.

For media inquiries click here

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for Indigenous Peoples worldwide. Read The Indigenous World.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Contact IWGIA

Prinsessegade 29 B, 3rd floor
DK 1422 Copenhagen
Phone: (+45) 53 73 28 30
CVR: 81294410

Report possible misconduct, fraud, or corruption

 instagram social icon facebook_social_icon.png   youtuble_logo_icon.png  linkedin_social_icon.png twitter-x-icon.png 

NOTE! This site uses cookies and similar technologies.

If you do not change browser settings, you agree to it. Learn more

I understand