Maria Clara Valencia
Paul Cheoketen from the Saanich community near Vancouver, British Columbia, plays his flute outside the COP21 Summit in Paris.

Indigenous Rights Boosted In the Climate Change Negotiations

Maria Clara Valencia

The Climate Change Summit at COP21 marked for the first time, in all the negotiating that has been going on for 21 years, the rights of the indigenous people were included without brackets in the non-binding preambular text being negotiated by 195 countries in Paris. It means nobody is complaining about its inclusion.

The announcement of this development was made on Saturday afternoon at the same time indigenous communities were conducting a discussion forum on Indigenous Peoples’ rights and land tenure to tackle climate change.

“It is a big step but this is not over,” Andrea Carmen, executive director of the International Indian Treaty Council told ICTMN.

Carmen, a member of the Yaqui Indian Nation of Arizona, explained indigenous have made a huge effort this week convincing negotiators about the need to reinsert the rights of indigenous people in the text.

These rights had been included before, but it is the first time the inclusion has no complaints from any of the parties negotiating, she assured.

Carmen acknowledge the active role countries like Mexico, Peru, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Canada and Philippines have done during the COP21 to support the indigenous pledges.

The text included emphasizes on the “importance of promoting, protecting and respecting all human rights, the right to development, the right to health, and the rights of Indigenous Peoples, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable climate situations as well as promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women, while taking into account the needs of local communities, intergenerational equity concerns, and the integrity of ecosystems and of Mother Earth, when taking action to address climate change.”

In brackets in that same paragraph (paragraph 10) remains the recognition of the importance of protecting people under occupation because not all the countries agreed on including them.

Threatens and opportunities for Indian communities

During the event about land tenure and people’s rights that took place in the Global Landscape Forum in Paris, different indigenous communities talked about how climate change and big infrastructure projects like dams and mining settlements are threatening their cultures. Also talked about was the need to change the model on how society is relating to the forest.

There were representatives from Native communities from USA, Indonesia, Sweden, Brazil and Philippines.

“We cannot continue with business as usual,” said Joan Carlin, secretary General of Asia Indigenous Pact. “We cannot have only an economical value of nature and the forest. For us the forest is the source of our culture and our identity, it is what we are.”

The leaders emphasized on the need to look at the forest not only as carbon storage but with a multipurpose perspective. “We need a strong policy on Indigenous Peoples rights, otherwise we cannot give our best contribution to help in things like adaptation,” Carling said.

As an important part of their rights, communities are demanding the assurance of free, prior and informed consent on the projects that are being planned in indigenous territories. According to the participants, this is needed if there is going to be partnerships with the private sector to invest in the forest. “People must be at the center of the discussion when talking about development,” Carling concluded.

Indigenous Peoples are visibly represented at COP 21 and they delivered a declaration/call for action addressing priority issues, like land titling, respect and restoration of ancestral territoriality and climate finance. Communities also demand to be profiled as innovators, partners and essential stakeholders in the Paris agreement.

A recent report from the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) and the World Resources Institute (WRI) suggest that Indigenous Peoples outperform every other owner, public or private in forest conservation.

Also, according to the Nature Conservancy and International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on climate change, lands managed by Indigenous Peoples and local communities play a crucial role in stewarding the world’s natural carbon stores. Private sector interests in these landscapes create both enormous risks and opportunities for these communities.

“Government development plans and projects, private corporations’ investments have and are continuing to cause Indigenous Peoples’ criminalization, displacement and the depletion of resources,” the organizations denounced.

Organized and supported by more than 100 international organizations, the Global Landscapes Forum reunites about 2,500 leaders from business, government, civil society, local communities and think tanks from across five continents: Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America. The weekend’s event focuses on all aspects of land use, which is expected to attract high-level attention at this year’s talks.

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