Indigenous Peoples in the international climate process
With their high energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, it is the industrialised nations that are responsible for the impending climate change. The indigenous peoples do not contribute to climate change. Quite the contrary: through their traditional ways of life, they have for centuries contributed to preservation and augmentation of a large portion of the CO2 bound in the forests.
However, indigenous communities are directly affected by climate change – as even the IPCC’s top scientific committee has confirmed – because they often dwell in ecologically sensitive areas. Not only can the consequences be registered on the Pacific islands due to the rise in sea level and in the Arctic, where degradation of the permafrost makes the traditional fishing and hunting practices of the Inuit, Saami and Aleuts as well as contact between villages impossible. Climate change also makes itself felt in the tropics. The agricultural cultivation cycles shift with the seasons, which brings the associated rituals and festivities into disarray and therefore has both cultural and material consequences. Extreme occurrences (drought and floods) are becoming increasingly common in Amazonia.
A further problem is also that new dangers to the rights of indigenous peoples could arise from the climate protection measures and mechanisms implemented internationally in the Kyoto Protocol. The so-called “Clean Development Mechanism” (CDM), which allows greenhouse gas producers of the north to outsource climate protection measures to the countries of the south, does not take the interests of the local population into account. The indigenous areas are not excluded from reforestation measures in developing countries financed by private or state institutions in industrialised nations to bind CO2 from the atmosphere and thus enhance their own emissions balance. In countries in which land rights are not embedded in the law, such “carbon sink projects” can undermine indigenous claims to land rights.
Climate Alliance played a decisive role in making COICA and other international indigenous organisations aware of this issue. In 1999, we organised a preliminary seminar on this topic for an international group of indigenous experts, and were subsequently also involved in the preparation and realisation of several forums on the subject of indigenous communities and climate change. At these events, indigenous people from all four corners of the globe were able to prepare for the upcoming climate talks and received logistical and financial support for participation in the UN climate conferences. This allowed them to voice their reservations about the Kyoto measures. However, their influence on progress of the official climate talks remained minimal. Despite this, the indigenous people have meanwhile gained themselves the status of an independent group of observers according to their position as an “important group” in the Rio Process or similar to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Together with its indigenous partners, Climate Alliance will continue to follow the climate talks and strive to address concrete issues such as the application potential of renewable energies in indigenous communities, indicators for assessment of the impact of climate change based on traditional knowledge, and indigenous assessment criteria for carbon sink projects.