UN rapporteur at COP21: Indigenous peoples should not be left out

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InterAksyon, Paris, France

An agreement on climate change should include the voices of more than 370 million indigenous peoples, and their rights having to do with climate change mitigation and adaptation should be considered in the deal that is being finalized by governments from more than 190 nations, according to Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, United Nations rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

"Indigenous peoples have contributed little to climate change, but they suffer the worst impacts. The agreement being struck here must respect human rights and that includes rights of the indigenous peoples all over the world," Corpuz told InterAksyon.

The Paris deal being hammered out in the French capital for nearly two weeks aims to deliver a robust, universal agreement to curb global greenhouse gas emissions.

The latest draft text on the table as of Thursday stated that all parties should respect the rights of indigenous peoples when taking action on climate change. But the bracketed references to human rights, the rights of indigenous peoples, migrants, children, persons with disabilities, and people in vulnerable situations and under occupation, means it is still a contentious issue and could be removed from the final text of the agreement.

"With climate change we are seeing that there is more poverty, hunger, food insecurity as well as deprivation of their lands and territories. This has already created many disputes now. So we really need to convince the states that this is the most moral thing to do and that they are legally obliged to implement and comply with their human rights obligations," Corpuz said.

Corpuz said indigenous peoples are contributing in the global solutions to climate change by guarding the forest in many traditional ways, such as the decrease in level of deforestation where indigenous peoples rights are recognized.

Joan Carling, secretary general of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, said the role of indigenous peoples has been largely ignored at the climate talks, saying it is "imperative" that the rights of millions of indigenous peoples are recognized and respected.

"It is upsetting and alarming that the current draft has removed the section in the preamble of the Paris agreement the reference to indigenous peoples rights, as well as on women and gender empowerment. That is a bad sign. The respect for human rights is a very critical part of agreement," said Carling, who hails from a Kankanaey tribe in Northern Philippines.

Carling appealed to the governments to recognize the situation of indigenous peoples who are highly affected by climate change.

"There has to be clear, ambitious commitments from governments simply because it will be more difficult for us in the indigenous communities to cope, as we do not have the means," she added.

Lidy Nakpil, coordinator of the Asian Peoples Movement on Debt and Development, said the extreme weather phenomena being experienced by small, low-lying countries like the Philippines is yet another reminder that governments need to take further steps in solving the climate crisis.

"Our survival is non-negotiable. There is a great need for countries to set high ambitions in climate reduction as well as address finance," Nakpil said.

The biggest fight is still about differentiation, or who does what. Unfortunately, developed countries like the United States and European Union members not only continue to shirk from their responsibility in leading the fight against climate catastrophe, they are passing off more of the blame and the responsibility to developing countries, Nakpil added.

Emmanuel De Guzman, head of the Philippine delegation, said, "the fight is not yet over. We can achieve our goal in pushing for a deal that is acceptable to all. The Philippines has been vocal in putting on the table the 1.5 degrees global warming limit, as well as on human rights, finance, technology transfer, capacity building and development."