Climate talks will draw indigenous peoples, tribal representatives, world leaders to Cancun

Terri Hansen, Today correspondent
11/29/10

Nearly 200 world governments will meet Nov. 29 – Dec. 10 at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference in Cancun, Mexico to discuss future commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement linked to the UNFCCC.

The Protocol sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to an average of five percent against 1990 levels over the five-year period 2008 and 2012.

Although some world leaders have declared that no meaningful agreement will be produced, a senior U.N. official said the talks can produce significant progress on forest protection, aid for developing nations and technology sharing. U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Robert Orr told reporters that enough issues are close to resolution, “that an important outcome could be achieved.”

“Increasingly, people are not holding high expectations for an international treaty to come out of the climate summit at Cancun,” said Robert Gruenig, senior policy analyst for the National Tribal Environmental Council. “Instead, they’re looking to Johannesburg next year.”

Gruenig and Native American Rights Fund Staff Attorney Kim Gottschalk will represent tribal interests in Cancun. “Our main thing is to get more tribal leaders on the U.S. Delegation,” Gruenig said. The Obama administration approved former
Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Chairman James Steele’s attendance at last year’s talks in Copenhagen, though without funding.

Last year’s summit produced the Copenhagen Accord, an agreement drawn up by the U.S., China, India, Brazil and South Africa that yielded few commitments to keep global greenhouse gasses from rising. The action by the five nations angered some of the countries that were excluded from the process, especially poorer nations experiencing the earliest and worst impacts of climatic changes yet who have contributed the least to its cause.

The Accord did provide for $100 billion a year by 2020 to fund climate efforts in developing countries. While leaders at Copenhagen vowed to stop global temperatures from rising above two degrees Celsius, many of the scientists in attendance claimed that the world is now on a path of increasing temperatures to 3.5 degrees Celsius by 2100.

Steele said the message from Copenhagen was clear. “The U.S. must lead the world by enacting a strong, science-based cap on greenhouse gas pollution. Failure is no longer an option. The cost of inaction is too high, for our people as well as our wildlife and natural resources.”

Four alternative climate summits will take place alongside the official proceedings; a summit of non-governmental organizations, one run by the Mexican government, Klima Forum, first held in Copenhagen in 2009, and La Via Campesina (the International Peasants’ Movement), an organization of over 148 organizations that advocate family-farm-based sustainable agriculture.

Via Campesina will accommodate thousands of people affected by environmental destruction – farmers, landless, indigenous peoples and activists from all sectors during the summit, to propose solutions to confront climate change.

Via Campesina will bring 4,000 Mexicans – indigenous peoples, farmers and their allies to Cancun, and a few hundred from the Global South. The Bolivian government is flying in 90 people, and Venezuela is flying in a similar number.

Caravans are en route to Cancun from the U.S. and Canada, and more people are coming in from Europe. The U.S.-based Indigenous Environmental Network is bringing in 23 people.

IEN, La Campesina and worldwide social movements want to show world leaders their opposition to what they are calling “false solutions to climate chaos discussed by the UNFCCC, such as market-based proposals on carbon trading and REDD, agrofuels and geo-engineering.”

La Campesina has issued a call out to social movements, organizations and people around the world to organize thousands of protests and actions during the summit to “reject false solutions and to support a people’s agenda for climate justice.” They’ve declared Dec. 7 an International Day of Action, calling for “Thousand of Cancuns” around the world, with a massive march and protest planned in Cancun.

NTEC and NARF also focus on indigenous rights. “We’re working to ensure indigenous peoples are not left out of the process,” Gruenig said. “As of now they are asked to give an opening and closing statement. That is not sufficient by any means, as a lot changes as the negotiations proceed. Indigenous people need to have direct participation and be allowed to speak on the floor.”

To affect that work Gruenig and Gottschalk will participate at the daily Indigenous Caucus, held concurrently with the talks.

In a recent development, the U.N. approved a draft resolution Nov. 16 that if finalized will organize a “World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.” In so doing the U.N. stated concerns about the “extreme social and economic disadvantages that indigenous peoples have faced,” and referenced the first World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth held in Cochabamba last April.

The high-level plenary meeting would take place at the end of the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People in 2014, and would share perspectives and best practices for the fulfillment of the objectives of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The resolution calls on member states and the international community to find solutions to problems faced by indigenous peoples in areas that include culture, education, health, human rights, the environment and socio-economic development. It would expand the U.N. Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Populations to include facilitating the participation of representatives of indigenous organizations in sessions of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Indian Country Today is grateful to the Earth Journalism Network for its U.S. 2010 Climate Media Fellowship that is sending environmental reporter Terri Hansen to Cancun, Mexico Nov. 29 – Dec. 10 to cover the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

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