Balancing Indigenous perspectives and international policies at COP28

There are a wide range of perspectives from Canada headed to the UN climate conversation

People walk near a logo for the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit, Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

A major annual international climate meeting kicks off tomorrow in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates and a few First Nations communities from Canada will be present to talk about remediation amidst concerns from environmental groups about oil and gas influence.

“I am excited to be able to bring a Haisla perspective to a global forum. It is a long way to go but I feel it will benefit our community and the initiative overall,” said Candice Wilson From the First Nations Climate Initiative, or FNCI.

The meeting takes place at the end of the hottest year recorded on Earth according to an article in the journal Nature published this November.

The FCNI is attending COP, short for Conference of the Parties, for the second time. The name refers to the 197 nations that agreed to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992. The 28 refers to the number of meetings the group has had.

Wilson is also a member of the Haisla Nation and works as an environmental manager for the Haisla Nation Council.

Wilson will speak about a restoration project on Haisla First Nation, more than 1,400 km north of Vancouver, on streams where salmon—an important resource for the nation—live.

The Haisla Nation Council also funded a restoration project where spruce trees are planted. The trees’ deep roots prevent riverbank erosion. The council used money acquired through logging income according to Coast Funds, a conservation and endowment fund in British Columbia.

Wilson said she uses the project as an example of connecting to generations through tradition. Her grandmother processed fish when Wilson was young, and now it is an activity in which all the women in the family participate.

“I had my mom helping me in the smokehouse when we do get fish and I also have my daughter who is ten years old,” said Wilson.

People walk the venue for the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit with the Al Wasl Dome in the background at Expo City, Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Joshua A. Bickel)

Concerns about oil and gas company participation at COP28

The conference is taking place against the backdrop of the first-ever global assessment of the world under the Paris Agreement. A UN report laying out the findings of the nearly two-year-long assessment said there had been some improvement but the world was still far off track to meet its goals.

The report said to limit global temperature rise to the key 1.5-degree threshold, greenhouse gas emissions had to be cut by 43 per cent by 2030, compared to 2019 levels, and 60 per cent by 2035.

It called for the “phaseout of unabated fossil fuels.” It’s a phrase that observers say helps set the stage for this round of negotiations and goes further than what has been agreed to at the UN climate summits.

The term “unabated” in the context of resource development has no international definition according to E3G, an environmental think tank. It tends to apply to projects that do not have carbon capture or emissions reduction as a part of their plan.

“The First Nations Climate Initiative has our presentation and that is what we will be focusing on,” said Wilson when asked about concerns from some that COP28 has a lot of oil and gas companies influencing decisions at the conference.

Candice Wilson (l), Haisla Nation and Chief Darlene Hunter (r), Halfway River First Nation—pictured here at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt—will be representing the First Nations Climate Initiative once again at the global climate action conference in Dubai. Photo: Supplied

The focus for the FNCI at COP28 is on remediation and reclamation said Alex Grzybowski, a facilitator for the FNCI. Still, he believes that resource extraction and energy companies need to be a part of the conversation.

“Oil and gas companies need to transition as well. Many of them are doing that and becoming major investors in renewable energy. You need to make them part of the solution,” said Grzybowski.
The FNCI released an independent report days before COP28 titled Western Canadian Gas Exports which focused on selling liquid natural gas, also known as LNG to Asian markets.
“What we were concerned about is…is it a part of the problem or part of the solution with respect to climate change,” said Grzybowski.

The FNCI will be focusing on their “nature-based solutions” during the conference but a press release from the organization calls on all levels of government to reduce emissions.

“The FNCI is calling for federal and provincial governments to adopt policies and enter international partnerships that ensure that Canadian low-carbon resources and emerging decarbonized fuels contribute directly to GHG reductions and decarbonization in the countries that are our trading partners,” said the release.

Darlene Hunter, the elected chief of Halfway River First Nation was also quoted in the release. Hunter will also be presenting virtually at COP28 in Dubai.

“Nature-based solutions will help to protect and restore the ecosystems First Nations have always depended upon, giving us more opportunities for traditional activities and providing new economic opportunities,” said Hunter.

“Our ancestors have lived off the land with a balance of give and take since time immemorial. We were taught by them, and we know what needs to be done to restore the balance of the natural world. We must, and we will, for the sake of ourselves and future generations.”

Who is going?

“This year there has been a tremendous amount of momentum from countries, and also civil society and non-state actors, setting up the expectation that this will be the COP that gets countries to agree to accelerate the phaseout of fossil fuels and accelerate the scaling up of renewable and energy efficiency,” said Catherine Abreu, of Destination Zero a non-profit that provides consultancy services to organizations working on climate justice to the Canadian Press.

At more than 70,000 delegates, the COP28 guest list is massive. Indigenous groups such as the Métis National Council, the Native Women’s Association of Canada and Inuit Circumpolar Council have all shared posts on social media announcing they are in Dubai for COP28. There were Indigenous-specific conversations before the official conference through the UN group Local Communities and Indigenous People’s Platform.

While there’s been no indication Prime Minister Justin Trudeau plans to attend, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault will be there, along with several provincial environment ministers, including from Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.

Guilbeault was asked by the press gallery what the federal government hopes to achieve during this year’s COP.

Answering in French, Guilbeault said that the government was starting to study the progress that they had made since signing the Paris Agreement in 2021, a treaty on climate change.
Guilbeault said there was a gap in Canada and internationally between the plan and action and that the fight against climate change needed to be accelerated through renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The two premiers set to attend, Alberta’s Danielle Smith and Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe, are also two of the most outspoken critics of the federal government’s climate policies, including its carbon price scheme, emissions cap and net-zero energy grid target.

“I hope they will not go there and go and fight Canada’s climate policies because that is bad for Canada as a whole and for attracting investment,” said Catherine McKenna, former Liberal environment minister and now chair of a United Nations working group on net-zero emissions commitment, in an interview with the Canadian Press last week.

“This COP is important because, for the first time ever, we’re actually dealing with the nub of the issue: fossil fuels.”

Two years ago, the draft agreement coming out of the summit in Scotland was the first to mention fossil fuel use at all, though limited it to coal. Last year in Egypt, there was a push for countries to phase out or phase down all fossil fuel use on a clear time frame, but the proposal never got formally debated.

With files from the Canadian Press

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