Indigenous People Demand Voice in Climate Talks

Published on Friday, November 28, 2008 by

by Haider Rizvi

UNITED NATIONS – Calls for greater participation of the world’s indigenous leaders are on the rise as another round of talks on global climate change opens in the Polish city of Poznan next week.

In a study released last week, MRG researchers warned that a new climate change agreement would be “seriously compromised” if policymakers continued to shut out the voices of those most affected by global warming.

More than 8,000 delegates from around the world are expected to participate in the meeting at Poznan. The two-week meeting is supposed to hammer out further international commitments to fight climate change, including climate-related financial assistance for developing countries.

UN officials hope the meeting will prove to be a “milestone on the road to success” for the negotiation process launched at past conferences, because it is tasked with setting the agenda for next year’s final talks on a climate change treaty.

But in Lattimer’s view, the UN process is deeply flawed, because it does not allow the communities that have first-hand experience of dealing with climate change to participate in the negotiations.

For one, official delegates in Poznan are expected to set targets on carbon emissions from deforestation, but forest-dwelling communities who are mostly indigenous people may not be included in those discussions.

According to MRG’s new report, the impact of climate change hits indigenous communities hardest because they live in ecologically diverse areas and their livelihoods are dependent on the environment.

To cite some examples of climate change impact on indigenous communities, the report refers to unprecedented levels of ice-melt in the Arctic region, droughts in east Africa, and a rapid fall in crop yields in Vietnam.

Minorities, according to the report, are often among the poorest and most marginalized communities and are most likely to face discrimination when disasters occur during climate changes.

“There has been a lot of attention paid to the damage climate change is doing to the environment and the loss of certain plant or animal species, but we aren’t sufficiently recognizing its impact on people,” said Farah Mihlar, the report’s author.

“There are entire communities that could be lost,” she added in a statement. “Cultures, traditions, and languages could be wiped off the earth.”

At the climate change conference held in Bali, Indonesia, last December, indigenous rights activists held a series of demonstrations against their exclusion from the official talks.

Among them, many had come from the communities living in the tropical forests of the world. At the conference, they expressed worries about plans by governments and international financial institutions to control forest degradation.

At the conference, they particularly expressed their concerns about the World Bank’s Carbon Partnership Facility, which is likely to provide large-scale incentives for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

The tropical and subtropical forest, the subject of the Facility, is home to 160 million indigenous people who are seen by many scientists as custodians and managers of forest biodiversity.

“While the Facility can be a good thing, we are very apprehensive on how this will work,” said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, “because of our negative historical and present experiences with similar initiatives.”

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognizes native groups’ right to control their lands and resources, including forests, but many governments and corporations continue to abuse the rights of forest communities.

“We remain in a very vulnerable situation,” said Tauli-Corpuz, “because most states do not recognize our rights to these forests and resources found therein.”

Last year, a report released by an international advocacy group raised similar concerns about the role of governments and corporations.

In its report, London-based Survival International named and shamed countries where the violations of tribal peoples’ rights are most egregious, including Botswana, Brazil, New Zealand, Malaysia, Paraguay, Peru, and the United States.

The report entitled, “The Terrible Ten: Key Abusers of Tribal Peoples’ Rights in 2007,” said tribal people in West Papua were suffering abuses at the hands of the Indonesian army and that their native lands were often exploited by the government and foreign companies.

In Botswana, Bushmen were forcibly prevented from returning to their homes in the country’s diamond-producing area, despite a court ruling that declared their 2002 eviction “unlawful and unconstitutional.”

According to Survival, Guarani Indians in Paraguay continued to lose their lands as a result of violence perpetrated by cattle ranchers. A number of natives were killed and raped as well.

In the Peru-Brazil border region, which is home to half of the world’s about 100 still uncontacted tribes, indigenous populations faced land grabs by oil companies and loggers backed by the government.

And similar cases also took place in other indigenous territories across the world. The UN Permanent Forum’s Tauli-Corpuz demanded that governments and corporations obtain the “free and prior” consent of indigenous peoples before taking any initiative on forest protections.

“I imagine that donors and the private sector would not like to put their resources in high-risk projects which will not genuinely involve indigenous and other forest-dwellers,” she said. “If there is an acceptance of the Facility, indigenous peoples must have a representation in [its] governance.”

In contrast to the UN negotiation process on climate change issues, indigenous communities enjoy relatively participation in international discussions on preserving biodiversity. The secretariat of the UN treaty on biodiversity has established a working group to ensure for this.

Meanwhile, MRG has gathered a series of testimonies from the world’s indigenous leaders in which they express “deep frustration” at their exclusion from the negotiations on climate change.

In a statement, the group called for the United Nations to set up a mechanism, similar to that of the treaty on biological diversity, so that indigenous communities could be able to have their voices heard at the international level.

“Indigenous peoples have for centuries adapted to changing environments and would be able to contribute substantially to adaptation strategies the UN is trying to include in a new climate change treaty,” said Lattimer.

© 2008 One World


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