Job Well Done? Cancún Agreements Get Mixed Response from Indigenous Peoples

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Mother Earth Journal, Cancún, Mexico

CANCUN, Mexico – Delegates from 193 countries negotiated a new international climate deal to cut carbon emissions and address mitigation and adaptation at the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change 16th Conference of the Parties.

Negotiators emerged from an all nighter Dec. 11 tired, but pleased with the 'Cancún Agreements.‘

They will require that developed and developing countries reduce their greenhouse gas 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 the rich nations, who they accused of genocidal policies that is taking “30,000 lives a year.”

In adopting the texts COP President Patricia Espinosa said the absence of an agreement would not prevent the effects of climate change, and that no one country should have the right of veto.

Pakistan journalist Rina Saeed Khan 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 asks for the floor. Photo courtesy IISD/Earth Negotiations Bulletin.

Bolivia decried what it’s calling a “Copenhagen Accord II,” saying that 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 reference to the Cochabamba document had been removed.

“I went through the documents and found the UN 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 a 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 and the day before the Parties emerged with the new framework, 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 that enhances market-based forest stocks, in which developing countries will be compensated for keeping their forests intact.

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 everyone was happy.

In order to mitigate climate change and save the forests, Carling said that Indigenous Peoples must have a voice.

“We are not just stake holders and we have the right to participate in these negotiations,” she said in their Dec. 11 press conference. “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 their opening statement Nov. 29. “Our land and territories, food sovereignty, bio-diversity, cultural practices and traditional life ways are being placed in further jeopardy, and we reject these false solutions.”

Ben Powless of Canada said IEN rejected REDD+ and the carbon market that 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,” he said.

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.”

The 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 hard work by the Indigenous Caucus 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 Carman 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,” said Carman. “Until industrial states like the US take responsibility for drastically reducing the emissions they produce, and call a halt to oil, gas and coal extraction and processing that are primarily are 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 over 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.

Click to download a pdf file of the text.

Mother Earth Journal is a news project of environmental journalist Terri Hansen. Why don’t you follow Terri on Twitter? She’s on Facebook too.

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

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International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC) Statement
for COP-MOP Closing Plenary, UNFCCC CMP 6/COP 16 – Cancun

December 10, 2010

Thank you,

Madame President, we thank you for the opportunity to make our statement at this closing plenary of the Ad hoc Working Group on CMP/COP.

As the only legally binding agreement to ensure that developed nations continue actions to reduce emissions, Indigenous Peoples are encouraged with the latest text from the AWG KP. Indigenous peoples FULLY support the revised text that urges developed countries to reduce their emissions by 25 – 40 %, with an agreement to use 1990 as the base year, though we note our position is for a 50% reduction.

A non-legally binding agreement will not bring about the urgent actions that are needed to prevent the runaway and compounding impacts of climate change that are already affecting Indigenous Peoples around the world. This must come out of future talks.

We reiterate our proposals for inclusion under any outcomes:

1.      Full respect for our rights, including those contained in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;

2.      Respect for our right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent in all climate change programs and activities;

3.      Recognition and protection of our traditional knowledge in all mitigation and adaptation measures;

4.      Full and effective participation of Indigenous Peoples in all processes, mechanisms and bodies relating to climate change at all levels:

Likewise, developed countries must fulfill their legal obligations and commit to drastic emissions reductions, and not pass the burden to developing countries and peoples. In this context, we maintain our position that the carbon market, including the CDM, forest offsets, and REDD plus plans, are false solutions to climate change.

We want to make clear that the protection of Mother Earth is the obligation of all of humanity. For that reason, we are committed to retain our role as stewards of Mother Earth, and all the ecosystems upon which our collective survival depends.

Thank you.