Indigenous peoples to world leaders: We carry burden of climate change

Voltaire Tupaz

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Indigenous peoples to world leaders: We carry burden of climate change
'This injustice calls for a commitment by the international community to compensate for the historical, social, and ecological debt we are suffering'

PARIS, France – Coming from their ancestral lands, mountains, forests, rangelands, and seas, hundreds of indigenous peoples gathered in Paris to make their collective voice heard at the summit in Paris that seeks to forge a deal that will combat climate change.

They were not convinced by the bold statements and billion-dollar pledges made by world leaders at the start of COP21 or the 21st Conference of Parties of the UN Convention Framework on Climate Change, which kicked off on Monday, November 30, 

“I’m not impressed by the leaders and I think…the climate financing is inadequate considering that the Global North owes the Global South,” said Sina Brown–Davis, a Maori speaking for the COP21 delegation of Pacific indigenous peoples.

The indigenous leader from New Zealand stressed that the 3-minute speeches made by about 150 heads of state at the Leaders’ Event at Le Bourget, venue of the COP21, were at best “political sophistry.”

“If our leaders were really committed to ending the climate crisis, they will put more pressure on corporations to stop oil drilling, to stop coal mining, to stop making emissions.”

The United States (US) recently launched a multi-billion-dollar initiative that sees China, India, Saudi Arabia, and 17 other countries pledging to boost their investment in developing clean technology. Germany, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland also introduced a new $500-million initiative that will help developing countries implement their plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

However, Sina fears that the indigenous peoples in Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, and others from Asia and the Pacific which are now being affected by the impacts of severe weather and sea level rise, might be forgotten in the course of the two-week summit.  

Indigenous peoples, who own, occupy or manage about 65% the world’s land surface, “have been largely excluded” from national climate change mitigation and adaptation plans, according to the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

There are at least 370 million indigenous peoples in 90 countries, comprising 5% of the global population and 15% of the world’s poor, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues reported.


Historical and ecological debt

About 250 indigenous leaders who engaged in unprecedented consultations in their regions in the Arctic, North America, Asia, Pacific, Latin America, and the Caribbean, Russia and Eastern Europe, and Africa finalized their proposals to COP21 on Monday.

In the document crafted by the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC), they reiterated their resolve to contribute with their traditional knowledge and livelihoods to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.

“It is the call of our peoples that are on the frontline and pay the highest price of climate change,” the statement read.  

According to the IIPFCC, impacts of climate change are further aggravated by the pressure of commercial and extractive interests on their land and resources such as agribusiness operations, oil palm, biofuel, carbon offsetting and market credit mechanisms, intensive livestock, hydroelectric, mining, oil, fracking, and geothermal projects.

“This injustice calls for a commitment by the international community to compensate for the historical, social, and ecological debt we are suffering,” IIPFCC participants demanded.



Human rights and climate change 

The IIPFCC proposed to the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) specific amendments to an important COP21 negotiating text the group is tasked to craft.

One of the proposed changes involve the inclusion of a strong specific statement to ‘respect, protect, promote, and fulfill human rights, including the rights of Indigenous Peoples,” a contentious issue in the ongoing negotiations. 

“This is the political statement that we need to make,” stressed Joan Carling, UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) vice chairperson.

“We need to be clear on that because if we don’t, then we’ll be divided, which is what the states are trying to do in the negotiations,” added Carling, who is also the secretary general of  the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact.

The indigenous leaders also called on countries to adopt a goal of keeping the temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming with the view of further lowering it to one degree Celsius. According to experts, the disastrous and irreversible tipping point of climate change is 2°C.

At the start of the negotiations, COP21 chair Laurent Fabius stressed the urgency of coming out with a draft climate deal that is ambitious and legally binding. – 



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