Before more than 150 world leaders converged on Paris this week to negotiate a long-term solution to man-made climate change at one of the most important climate summits in the talks’ 21-year history, the world’s indigenous leaders met on November 27 for the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC).
The IIPFCC, an official Caucus for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), produced proposals on November 29 for presentation to the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) that indigenous leaders, lawyers and experts—from the United States and elsewhere—are requesting to have incorporated into COP21 documents, and beyond.
With a global population higher than 370 million, Indigenous Peoples inhabit every continent, speaking 5,000 languages. They represent myriad cultures, each with their own social and cultural institutions that are distinct from those of the dominant societies of the countries they live in. Speaking with one voice, in spite of their extreme diversity, Indigenous Peoples established the IIPFCC, which defends their fundamental rights with regard to an issue—climate change—that directly affects them, given the degree to which their activities and way of life are intimately tied to Earth and the environment.
As is well known, Indigenous Peoples often rely directly on natural resources and ecosystems, and thus are especially vulnerable to, and disproportionately hit by, climatic changes. They are being forcibly removed from their lands by deforestation, sea-level rise, major infrastructure projects and conflicts arising from resource scarcity. All the while, they play a critical role in climate change mitigation and adaptation through their historic and effective role as stewards of much of the world’s remaining forests.
Indigenous Peoples and organizations came to the meetings with their own agendas, priorities and proposals to introduce during the IP caucus meetings that take place every morning during COP21.
“We Indigenous Peoples come to Paris after having engaged in an unprecedented process of consultation in our regions in the Arctic, North America, Asia, Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, Russia and Eastern Europe and Africa, where we shared our perspectives, witnessed our suffering due to climate change, and reiterated our resolve to contribute with our traditional knowledge and livelihoods to adapt to and mitigate climate change to the benefit of all humankind,” the IPFCCC stated. “Our call comes from our lands, mountains, forests, rangelands and seas that suffer droughts, floods, melting of glaciers and thawing of permafrost and loss of sea ice. Climatic aggression threatens Indigenous Peoples’ individual and collective human rights and life ways including the right to life, the right to food, the right to health, and the right to lands, territories and resources.”
COP21’s goal is to achieve a new legally binding agreement on the climate, applicable to all countries. The summit’s official aim is to keep the Earth from heating by two degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above temperatures as measured at the beginning of the industrial revolution. If we reach a heating of two degrees Celsius over those earlier temperatures, low-lying island nations will drown beneath rising seas, rising seas will flood coastal cities and villages, droughts will worsen, and many species will be put at increased risk for extinction, and human health impacts will begin to appear, and worsen. And this is what tends to hit Indigenous Peoples the hardest.
Nearly every country has agreed that 2 degrees is too much. The IPFCCC wants to cap warming at 1.5 degrees. In October, in Bonn, the IIPFCC issued key demands to be addressed in the final climate change agreement, noting UNFCC findings that a global temperature increase of two degrees Celsius would fail to protect the food sources and local economies, and thus Indigenous Peoples’ resilience and survival. The IIPFCC advocates keeping the climate from warming higher than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“The science is clear,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to CNN. “Even a two-degree rise will have serious consequences for food and water security, economic stability and international peace. That is why we need a universal, meaningful agreement here in Paris.”