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News > World

Indigenous People Fight for Place at World Climate Action Table

  • An Indigenous woman joins a demonstration calling for the protection of Mother Earth in Bolivia.

    An Indigenous woman joins a demonstration calling for the protection of Mother Earth in Bolivia. | Photo: Reuters

Published 8 November 2016

A growing body of research shows that Indigenous people and guaranteed rights to their land are critical factors in keeping carbon out of the atmosphere.

Indigenous peoples and their traditional land management practices are key in the global fight against climate change, and convincing global leaders rise to challenge of ensuring financing for these vulnerable communities will be a critical piece of the puzzle if the planet hopes to stay below catastrophic levels of global warming.

COP21 Dooms Indigenous Communities to Climate Displacement

That’s the argument put forward at an Indigenous-led event Tuesday on the sidelines of the COP22 climate summit in Marrakech, Morocco. The conference is the follow up to last year’s COP21 aimed at ironing out the details of the Paris climate accords, which entered into force last Friday and now has 102 of the 197 U.N. countries on board.

Organizations representing Indigenous communities, such as the Center for Indigenous Peoples’ Culture of Peru, also known as Chirapaq, also gathered to highlight some of the issues largely overlooked in the official COP22 agenda and bring attention to the challenges and opportunities for Indigenous groups in the face of climate change.

“Various Indigenous communities have developed important experiences in climate adaptation,” Chirapaq President Tarcila Rivera said during the event, demanding recognition of the importance of Indigenous communities in global climate action and support to protect and preserve ancestral cultural practices and ways of life.

A central issue in the discussion is the question of Indigenous peoples’ direct access to funding for climate change mitigation, including through initiatives such as the Green Climate Fund, a U.N. initiative launched in 2010 with the goal of helping limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. The Paris agreement also signed on to the goal of keeping warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, the tipping temperature seen as the point of no return from drastic and irreparable environmental damage, according to climate scientists.

But one major cornerstone that the deal, widely celebrated as a “historic” accord despite serious shortcomings, fails to set binding climate financing goals that would hold wealthy countries — historically responsible for fueling climate change — responsible for leading the charge in funding a global transition to clean energy.

Corporate Conquistadors Rape Indigenous Lands and Bodies

And Indigenous communities, among the most vulnerable in the face of rising temperatures and also on the front lines of resistance against extractive projects fueling environmental destruction, are in urgent need of support if they are going to continue to be leading climate warriors. If not, inadequate global climate action will likely doom these hard-hit communities to climate displacement.

According to a recent report from the Rights and Resources Initiative, Indigenous peoples play an “unparalleled role” in mitigating climate change as the guardians of nearly one-quarter of the world’s aboveground-sequestered carbon stored in tropical forests. Ensuring collective land rights to these communities’ traditional territories, the report argues, is key in keeping some 54.5 billion metric tons of carbon — more than 250 times the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global air travel in 2015 — out of the air and in storage.

The findings reinforce the place of the world’s Indigenous peoples in the Paris climate accords and global efforts to cut carbon emissions and curb runaway warming.

“Sustainability can only be ensured if Indigenous peoples are included in the implementation of the Paris agreement”, the director of the International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs, Elsebeth Krogh, said in an event leading up to COP22.

But the so-called “historic” Paris climate deal falls far short of recognizing and including Indigenous communities in a comprehensive way. The text of the agreement pays no substantial attention to Indigenous rights or the role of Indigenous people as unmatched stewards of the environment. The core text also fails to mention intergenerational equity and biodiversity, tossing by the wayside any claimed commitment to protecting future generations and complex ecosystems from the destruction of climate change.

Consistent with the Paris agreement’s sidelining of Indigenous issues, the draft COP22 agenda has no official events dedicated to the topic, highlighting the importance of parallel events to give visibility to important — and seldom-discussed — issues. However, the summit does plan to tackle the central and hotly debated question of climate finance.

The COP22 climate conference kicked off on Monday and runs until Nov. 18. Since the agreement entered into force earlier than expected, the most pressing issue facing the summit is writing the rulebook to govern the implementation of the deal.

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