Climate Change and Indigenous Rights

It’s been an incredibly long, but fulfilling first day in Paris for the COP21 UNFCCC climate negotiations, hitting the ground running straight from our international flight to the negotiations. The goal today was to find our way around on public transportation, pick up our credentials at the Blue Zone and get a feel for the hundreds of different events, speakers and workshops being offered.

The location of the Blue Zone is so interesting – with all the buildings built as temporary structures that will be dismantled and reused after the talks, it feels a little like walking around a big IKEA store. The variety of languages spoken, different cultures represented and traditional dress was a powerful reminder of who is present at these talks.

2015-12-02-16-02-18-_DSC0060It was exciting to see Bill McKibben, and Dr. James Hansen, but the greatest conversation we had today was with two people fighting for Indigenous rights – Don Sampson, Executive Director on the Institute for Tribal Government and Tribal Leadership Forum at Portland State University and John Sirois, Committee Coordinator at the Upper Columbia United Tribes. Don said that in addition to the 561 tribes in the United States, they are also working with Indigenous people around the world from Fiji to the Maldives.

You can read more about their proposed amendment to the COP21 agreement here, but the preamble starts with: “Recognizing that even though Indigenous Peoples bear the least responsibility for climate change, they are the most adversely affected because their livelihoods are based upon, related to, and dependent upon ecological balance and ecosystem integrity…”

The proposal requests to include language in the agreement that advances respect, protection, and the fulfillment of human rights for all people, including Indigenous communities. In addition, they propose adopting a goal of keeping temperature rise below 1.5 degrees C of warming. Asked why this is below the 2 degrees that has been discussed, Don explained that many Indigenous People are more susceptible to any changes due to their dependence on the land, their proximity to coastlines with likelihood of significant land loss, and their lack of resources for adaptation and mitigation.

Don and John explained that they are most frustrated with the COP21 leadership’s lack of response to their requests for early participation from Indigenous Peoples, including in the planning, decision-making, monitoring and evaluation on climate change. They came to the talks as guests of Norway to make sure their voices are heard. We all should be listening.

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