APTN National News
Indigenous delegates at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) conference are left waiting outside negotiating rooms in Paris to learn the fate of their rights currently on the cutting board.
Those rights related to climate change are in the hands of delegates and trade experts whose main interests lie in economic initiatives expected to be birthed following the signing of an international treaty to prevent dangerous levels of global warming.
Negotiations are heading into the final stages at COP21 with the aim of creating a Paris Agreement to replace the failed Kyoto Accord.
The agreement, expected to be completed by Friday, will come into force in 2020. World leaders continue to work out details of the deal that focuses on curbing global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while keeping global warming below an increase of 2 degrees Celsius.
On Monday, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples warned that the outcome of the debates at the COP21 and including reference to Indigenous rights will determine whether the world succeeds in slowing the earths heating.
“Should human rights for Indigenous Peoples be struck from the final agreement, negotiators will have destroyed any pretense of their intention to mitigate climate change,” said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz in a statement.
“Failure to protect Indigenous Peoples rights in a final agreement will fuel destruction of the forests and other ecosystems managed since time immemorial by Indigenous Peoples.”
The dispute arose last Friday following the first week of negotiations when the text at issue was removed from the draft document of the proposed worldwide legally binding treaty on climate change.
Although there is mention of adapting Indigenous knowledge in the preamble of the text, concerns are centered on references in Article 2.2 of the main document that included the rights of Indigenous Peoples. The section, which is the legally binding aspect, was bracketed and placed on the chopping block.
Jurisdictions opposing the inclusion of the text are the European Union, Denmark, Norway and the United States, said Alberto Saldamando, legal counsel for the Indigenous Environmental Network who is in Paris lobbying states to reinsert the mention of Indigenous rights in the agreement.
He said he’s puzzled as to the exact reasoning behind the resistance because countries like Denmark and Norway have historically given support to Indigenous causes.
“Even Denmark, Norway and all these countries that used to be our friends- they’re stone cold against the mention of Indigenous rights and language. I can’t figure out why…it doesn’t make sense,” said Saldamando.
He believes it might be connected to the fact that many countries sent delegates who are experts in trade negotiations and not well informed on matters related to human rights.
Human rights and gender equality listed in the same section of the agreement have also been removed.
“They (delegates) don’t understand (human rights) because they understand trade language. I do believe that a lot of these guys do not know what they’re doing- it’s shocking really,” he said.
With big money to be made in investments to green energy initiatives, COP21 has been steered by the influence of wealthy nations, the corporate sector and other interest groups.
According to Saldamando, they lack an understanding of the correlation between Indigenous rights and the commodification of the earth.
“It’s colonization all over again, it’s a taking. That’s what we’re afraid of,” said Saldamando.
Mitigation methods agreed upon at COP21 have the potential to violate the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP.)
Initiatives such as carbon trading involving Indigenous lands pose threats by leaving vulnerable Indigenous groups to corporate interests and development without free, prior and informed consent.
“Those countries are over there talking about reducing green house gases, but we’ve already been violated by activities that cause climate change,” said International Indian Treaty Council Executive Director, Andrea Carmen.
“Now as the states plan to put programs in for litigation, for adaptation solutions- we have some of the last pristine forest, water and biodiversity in the world and we see our resources as kind of being on the table again and up for grabs in the solution stage,” said Carmen.
“It’s kind of ironic for Indigenous Peoples whose treaties are being violated, along with land rights, health and subsistence by these energy developments and projects- then they’re (states) over there talking about reducing, mitigating and adapting without our rights secured- we’ll be on the menu again.”
Saldamando referenced Indigenous Peoples living in countries such as Brazil who don’t technically own title to lands who are losing control over their forest homelands. Industries investing in carbon credits in efforts to reduce emissions via way of buying carbon stored in trees places Indigenous livelihoods at stake, he said.
It leaves open opportunities for corporate interest in and access to traditional territory, loss of food security and ceremonial and spiritual practices.
“Essentially the investor has an ownership interest in those trees. That means the community can’t log or cut down trees for housing, can’t clear a field to grow crops. And it really doesn’t protect the forest from development- as long as there’s a net increase in carbon sequestration they can mine and do whatever they want. Those are violations of UNDRIP done without free, prior and informed consent,” said Saldamando.
Having returned from Paris as part of the Global Indigenous Caucus, Chief Edward John of the First Nations Summit in British Columbia said the Paris agreement needs to go beyond talks of trade, and alleviating climate change.
“They also need to include how to deal with the impacts on vulnerable people,” said John.
“Such as the Inuit in the far north or First Nations who are impacted by the mountain pine beetle in British Columbia; or First Nations in BC who are impacted by warming waters in the Fraser river where 19 degrees becomes lethal to salmon in the summer time. These are the issues that we are dealing with – the first and the lasting impacts are on Indigenous Peoples,” he said.
However, John remains optimistic because of the help of countries like Canada advocating on the behalf of Indigenous Peoples rights in Paris. A stark shift in the political landscape in comparison to past adversarial relationships between First Nations and the Canadian government.
Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna is part of a 14 member facilitating panel from around the world directing negotiations.
“Canada’s position remains that we strongly advocate for the inclusion in the Paris Agreement of language that reflects the importance of respecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples,” according to a statement from McKenna’s office.
Other countries going to bat for the inclusion of human and Indigenous rights language include the Philippines, Mexico, the Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean.
With final negotiations underway and the world readying to sign the Paris Agreement Friday, Tauli-Corpuz appealed for opposing countries to follow suit in supporting Indigenous and human rights.
“We call on the US, the UK and Norway, all of which have extended their hand to indigenous peoples in the past, to stand up for human rights and principles of democracy and inclusion,” she said.
“The social conflict that will erupt in the forests, should our peoples have no rights to defend themselves, will exact tremendous economic harm, as our forests are our homes, our lives, our culture, and the heart of our spirituality. We will not go quietly, and neither should you.”