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Cancun a Win? Indigenous Leaders Mixed

CANCUN, Mexico – Delegates negotiating a new international climate deal to cut carbon emissions and address mitigation and adaptation emerged from a marathon session at the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change 16th Conference of the Parties Dec. 11, tired but pleased.

The “Cancún Agreements” that resulted will require that both developed and developing countries reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and register their actions for international verification. Under the Kyoto Protocol, set to expire in 2012, developing countries had no such commitments.

The UNFCCC called it a balanced package that “restores faith in the multilateral process.” But its adoption wasn’t unanimous.

Bolivia’s plurinational state vetoed the agreement, saying it wanted deeper cuts in GHG emissions by rich nations, who they accused of genocidal policies “that take 30,000 lives a year.”

To avert catastrophic global warming developed countries would have to cut their emissions 25 to 40 percent compared with 1990 levels in the next decade. Instead, they’ve committed to 16 percent in the new Agreements.

Despite Bolivia’s dissent, COP President Patricia Espinosa adopted the text, saying the absence of an agreement would not prevent the effects of climate change and no one country should have the right of veto.

Journalist Rina Saeed Khan from Pakistan and part of the Climate Change Media Partnership interviewed delegates from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the African countries. “They all said they agreed in principle with Bolivia, but said the U.S. had exerted pressure on their governments to water down the agreements,” Kahn said.

Bolivia decried what it’s calling a “Copenhagen Accord II,” and said a “so-called victory for multi-lateralism is really a victory for the rich nations who bullied and cajoled other nations into accepting a deal on their terms. An accord where only the powerful win is not a negotiation, it is
an imposition.”

The Indigenous Environmental Network also condemned the Agreements. IEN said the Cochabamba People’s Agreement represents “everyday people from all corners of the globe creating solutions to the problems of climate change from the ground up, and which calls for a global framework that respects human rights and the rights of Mother Earth,” and is the best way to proceed.

The “Cochabamba People’s Agreement, Honoring the Rights of Nature” document was the result of a landmark gathering of social movements last April in Bolivia. The UNFCCC merged the document into the climate negotiating text but when released to delegates at COP 16 all references to the Cochabamba document were removed.

“I went through the documents and found the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples referenced twice,” said Robert Gruenig, senior policy analyst for the National Tribal Environmental Council. “The final text is a step forward but what we should be concerned with is that as we get closer to the final version that will come out, it may be more difficult to get indigenous language in.”

The final day of the COP, Joan Carling of the Philippines reiterated the four demands of the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change on any climate processes:

The recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples consistent with the UNDRIP; the right to free prior and informed consent in all actions related to climate change that affects them; recognition and protection of their traditional knowledge; and ensuring their participation in all climate change processes.

“As indigenous peoples, we have been engaging in the climate negotiations for many years to express our great concern over the current and future impacts of changes in the climate on our peoples, our cultures and our rights,” Carling said.

The UNFCCC agreed on a new framework for REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries). REDD-plus is a carbon trading scheme meant to enhance market-based forest stocks, in which developing countries will be compensated for keeping their forests intact.

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Because tropical forests store more than half the world’s carbon and hold two-thirds of the world’s biodiversity, REDD+ was a critical component of this year’s talks. To hold global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels deforestation must be cut to half by 2020, according to the U.S.-based Commission on Climate and Tropical Forests.

Some indigenous nations and communities have signed on to the UN-REDD Programme. UN-REDD said the new agreement will increase the flow of market funding to support REDD+ readiness and invigorate donor pledges that are now close to $5 billion for early actions until 2012.

But not all.

In order to mitigate climate change and save the forests, Carling said indigenous peoples must have a voice. “We are not just stake holders and we have the right to participate in these negotiations. It’s a matter of life and death if they come out with wrong solutions.”

“REDD threatens our human rights, including our right to free prior and informed consent among many others,” the IIPFCC’s Indigenous Caucus said in an opening statement Nov. 29. “Our land and territories, food sovereignty, biodiversity, cultural practices and traditional lifeways are being placed in further jeopardy, and we reject these false solutions.”

Ben Powless of Canada said IEN rejected REDD+ and the carbon market because it proposes to commercialize nature to the detriment of indigenous peoples and biodiversity. “We demand a strong system of monitoring and compliance of states on safeguards related to REDD to ensure the protection of our rights.”

Gruenig discussed the safeguards in the REDD+ program with the U.S. delegation, taking into account the obligations under the UNDRIP. Gruenig said the U.S. seemed to be okay with the language used in those safeguards, “which is interesting because the U.S. has not signed onto the UNDRIP, but they are okay with this.” (Note: The U.S. signed onto the UNDRIP when?).

The new agreements also committed to a pledge made in last year’s Copenhagen Accord to raise a fund of $30 billion within 2010-2012, called the “Green Climate Fund.”

The International Indian Treaty Council said the Indigenous Caucus’ hard work resulted in greater recognition for the rights of indigenous peoples, and human rights in general, in the final document, and provided an important basis for their future work to have the rights of indigenous peoples as contained in UNDRIP fully included and implemented in the text.

IITC Executive Director Andrea Carmen said the most disappointing and unfortunate aspects of the outcome was the lack of political will by states to agree to any real, binding or significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and the activities that produce them.

“Indigenous peoples’ ways of life and homelands all over the world are threatened and impacted by climate change as well as false solutions based on carbon trading and market based schemes. Until industrial states like the U.S. take responsibility for drastically reducing the emissions they produce, and call a halt to oil, gas and coal extraction and processing that are primarily responsible for climate change, we remain under dire threat. The climate crisis will only continue to worsen and indigenous peoples, and all of our future generations, will be at risk.”

Gruenig said there are several important issues that will need to be addressed at next year’s climate summit in Durban, South Africa.

Four alternative climate summits took 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 more than 148 organizations that advocate family-farm-based sustainable agriculture that drew thousands – farmers, landless, indigenous peoples and activists from all sectors during the summit proposing solutions to confront
climate change.

To view the Cancun Agreements visit

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