States Fail to Adequately Address Climate Change: An Indigenous Peoples’ Analysis of COP26 Decisions
From October 31–November 12, 2021, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP26) took place in Glasgow, Scotland. Despite the tremendous efforts brought forth by the delegation of Indigenous Peoples from around the world, global leaders failed to act on the urgency of the climate crisis. The global community must wake up and acknowledge that fighting climate change requires true commitment and changed behaviors now.
Indigenous Peoples represented the second-largest civil society delegation in attendance at COP26, second only to oil and gas lobbyists. The general feeling towards COP26 is best captured by Cultural Survival’s Lead on Brazil and COP26 delegate, Edson Krenak (Krenak): “COP26 brought us many disappointments. As always, Indigenous Peoples, as guardians of the land, did not sit at the table where negotiations and decisions were made. States continue, together with corporations, to try to save the economy, the money machine that is capitalism or colonialism. They are not working to save the planet!”
We are resilient and adaptive Peoples, and we will continue to do our part in holding our sacred responsibilities towards Mother Earth. Even though Indigenous Peoples were not at the helm of the decision-making machine, we were successful in voicing our concerns regarding climate issues in our communities and influencing policies that will have a direct impact on our communities. We also strengthened our resolve to continue to make our voices in these international spaces heard and continue to push for the recognition of human rights and the protection of Indigenous Peoples’ rights.
“For a while, Indigenous Peoples have been advocating to have one seat. Even if one seat is insufficient, one seat [is] to represent Indigenous knowledge, science, and perspective on that climate technology network,” said Graeme Reed (Anishinaabe), Co-chair of the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change about the Climate Technology Center and Networks Advisory Body.
Adoption of the Glasgow Climate Pact
The Glasgow Climate Pact, adopted by nearly 200 countries, goes further than the Paris Agreement, aiming to set global warming targets to 1.5 degrees Celsius while recognizing that there is no safe limit for global warming. The chief organizer of COP26, Alok Sharma, described the Glasgow Pact as “a fragile win,” affirming the general feeling that not enough is being done with respect to the climate change crisis.
While numerous member States committed to the phase-out of coal, some of the leading coal-dependent countries like the United States, Australia, India, and China did not. Major international banks committed to effectively end all international public financing of new unabated coal power by the end of 2021, while member States such as Denmark, Canada, Italy, and the United States, along with other public finance institutions, created a joint statement that commits to ending international public support for the unabated fossil fuel energy sector by the end of 2022.
Cultural Survival’s Director of Strategic Partnerships and Communications and COP26 delegate, Daisee Francour (Oneida), says, “We must leverage this small commitment to push our local and national governments to go beyond this phase-out. This means continuing to apply pressure on governments to work towards a true, just transition that actually addresses climate, economic, and social justice. We must center Indigenous leadership, rights, and Free, Prior and Informed Consent as we build a more sustainable future.”
Inclusion of Human Rights Language in Article 6
Article 6 serves as the rulebook on how CO2 emissions will be calculated and accounted for, as well as the use of carbon markets, emissions reduction, and National Climate Action Plans. “Cultural Survival’s stance on Article 6 is that we do not believe in carbon market mechanisms as a climate change solution. In the context of COP26 negotiations, these market mechanisms were disguised as nature-based solutions. The final text mentions the need to respect Indigenous Peoples’ rights but does not mention the need to obtain our Free, Prior and Informed Consent,” says Galina Angarova (Buryat), Cultural Survival Executive Director.
While the lobbying efforts of the Indigenous delegation resulted in language for the recognition of human rights and Indigenous rights in several provisions of Article 6, the inclusive language is vague and lacking the vigor we hoped for. “We wanted to see an independent grievance mechanism. We are also dismayed at the exclusion of our rights in activity design and implementation. In particular, the consultation provision in 6.4 is inadequate. It needs to include applicable international standards and ensure compliance with the rights of Indigenous Peoples to Free, Prior and Informed Consent,” stated the delegation.
Cultural Survival hosted several events at COP26, including one on Earth observationbased innovation by and for Indigenous women with Group on Earth Observations Indigenous Alliance. Photo by Avexnim Cojti.
Addressing Loss and Damage
Developed countries vetoed attempts to expand assistance mechanisms for loss and damage caused by climate change. Nonetheless, the Glasgow Pact recognizes loss and damage that has already occurred due to climate change, and acknowledges that it will only increase, posing greater threats to societies, economies, and the environment. Notably, paragraph 62 “acknowledges the important role of a broad range of stakeholders at the local, national, and regional level, including Indigenous Peoples and local communities, in averting, minimizing, and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change.”
Developed countries continually fall short on their pledges and obligations to provide $100 billion per year to fight climate change. “It is a well known fact that the carbon footprints of Indigenous Peoples and some small developing countries are minimal in comparison to those of developed countries. Developed countries are the worst polluters of Mother Nature. However, they get to skirt their obligations while Indigenous Peoples bear the brunt of these bad decisions. This is unfair to say the least,” says Monica Coc Magnusson (Q’eqchi Maya), Director of Advocacy and Policy at Cultural Survival.
Funding and access were at the heart of COP26 discussions. A pledge of $19.2 billion was endorsed by world leaders at COP26 for the protection of forests and to end deforestation. Recognizing the invaluable role that Indigenous Peoples play in climate change solutions and mitigation, several philanthropic organizations pledged an additional $1.7 billion to fund the efforts of Indigenous Peoples in their fight against climate change. The Indigenous delegation commented, “It is essential that Indigenous Peoples have direct access to finance, rather than systems that route funding through intermediary organizations that are inaccessible and unreliable. Dedicated climate financing for Indigenous Peoples could provide support for us to maintain, restore, and enhance our knowledge and practices that care for the Earth, to promote Indigenous food sovereignty, create an appropriate structure for loss and damage to compensate Indigenous Peoples, and advance the rights of Indigenous women and persons with disabilities within the climate agenda.”
Adoption of the Just Transition Declaration
The decision reached in the Glasgow Pact about limiting emissions is nowhere close to meeting proposed targets. The Just Transition Declaration recognizes the need to include everyone, especially the vulnerable, in the transition to net zero emissions and environmentally sustainable economy. It includes “a commitment to gender equality, racial equality, and social cohesion; protection of the rights of Indigenous Peoples; disability inclusion; intergenerational equity and young people; the promotion of women and girls; marginalized persons’ leadership and involvement in decision-making and recognition of the value of their knowledge and leadership; and support for the collective climate action of diverse social groups. Social dialogue as well as rights at work are indispensable building blocks of sustainable development and must be at the center of policies for strong, sustainable, and inclusive growth and development.”
The Declaration also acknowledges the need for safeguards in existing and new supply chains and the importance of creating fair and just work for all. It recognizes the need to respect human rights and to promote social dialogue and engagement among all who will be affected by the transition to green economies. It recognizes the importance of upholding human rights and the protection of the rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as acknowledging International Labor Organization guidelines. While the Just Transition Declaration recognizes Indigenous Peoples’ rights, “had it included stronger human rights protection language, it would have illustrated its commitment to focus more on the just aspect of transition and less on economic benefits,” says Magnusson.
Given the overall lack of action and urgency expressed for the climate crisis by the global leaders at COP26, there is so much more to be done. Much of this movement, like keeping member States accountable to their commitment, will fall on our shoulders. If we are to win the climate change war, it means we as Indigenous Peoples will have to work harder at the local and international levels. We have to ensure our local Indigenous communities get the financing they need to continue to steward their lands in a sustainable manner.
At Cultural Survival, we will continue to advocate for the collective rights of Indigenous Peoples to lands and resources. However, we cannot address a global crisis without focusing on local, place-based solutions. Supporting Indigenous communities at the local level supports and enriches ecosystems, strengthening the interconnected and interdependent web of life. Indigenous Peoples’ Traditional Knowledge is the catalyst for the climate change mitigation our world desperately needs. We are committed to partnering with Indigenous communities, and we will continue to expand our efforts in ensuring the promotion and protection of Indigenous Peoples’ and human rights.
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