Indigenous Denounce Exclusion of Rights at COP21

The Greenpeace giant polar bear was brought to COP21 on Wednesday to add pressure on governments to make an ambitious climate deal.
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The Greenpeace giant polar bear was brought to COP21 on Wednesday to add pressure on governments to make an ambitious climate deal. The bear stood over activists and representatives of Indigenous Peoples from north and south. As indigenous rights were being the December 10 version of the negotiated, legally binding operative text, the group demanded climate action and for the rights of the Indigenous Peoples be specifically included.

Vyzcheslav Shadrin from the Yukagir people in the Russian Far East said that it is unfair that the rights of Indigenous Peoples are not included in the text. “We are on the frontline of climate change, and are suffering its first and worst impacts. So we have a right to be recognized in this international forum,” he said.

Maria Leuza, from the Mundurukus people, who live along the Tapajos River in the Amazon basin in Brazil talked about the construction of the big dam Belo Monte that, according to her, is destroying her community because it requires the flood of part of their lands and affects fishing. About 199 square miles (516 km2), a space bigger than the city of Chicago, will be flooded for the dam.

Leuza denounced the death threats her community has faced. “We are the people of Tapajós and we are suffering because they are destroying our forests, our land and our fishing,” she said. She explained the dam will destroy her culture and she asked the people to spread the word so everybody knows about what is happening in Tapajós.

Also Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace talked about indigenous inclusion and said that “with less than three days remaining, negotiations must not stall. Ministers have to bring ambition to the long term goal, so that we have full de-carbonization by 2050 and financial support for the most vulnerable.”

He emphasized that “as we fight to protect the climate, we must also fight for the rights of Indigenous Peoples, who are on the frontline of the growing climate crisis. When this polar bear roars, she roars for billions of people, and she roars loudest for those on the frontlines of climate change.”

Advances away from the communities

Meanwhile, negotiators announced this week they are optimistic about the advance in the negotiations regarding forests. In a press release, Daniel Vicente Ortega Pacheco, delegate from Ecuador and Henri Djombo, from the Republic of Congo said that they perceive a general understanding on the importance of forests for the mitigation and adaptation of climate change. “This will be, in a way, reflected in the agreement.”

They announced that parties have identified their ‘must be’ issues and their possible commitments to get there.

Outside the rooms being used for the negotiations the International Indigenous Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC) insisted that measures and policies in achieving the objectives of the climate change convention should be anchored to the respect, protection and fulfillment of human rights, including the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“The respect and protection of our rights is a critical element in order to further the maximum potential of Indigenous Peoples, traditional knowledge, innovations and sustainable livelihoods,” they pointed.

The organization emphasized that the agreement shall be implemented on the basis of equity and science, and in accordance with the principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.”

According to the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University, 5 percent of global population is indigenous; they are the owners of 25 percent of global land and are responsible for 80 percent of the world's remaining biodiversity. Population, land and biodiversity are some of the key issues of the negotiation. Nevertheless the communities directly involved with them are not seated in the negotiating table.

Deforestation, mainly conversion of forests for agriculture activities, has been estimated at an alarming rate of 13 million hectares per year. Forests, where most indigenous communities live, capture closer than 5 percent of all emissions made by humans, according to the Center for International Forestry Research.