On Friday December 4th, Indigenous Peoples from around the globe demonstrated inside the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC/COP21) convention centre at Le Bourget. The protest was carried out to highlight objections to the proposed removal of language pertaining to both the rights of Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights from Article 2.2 of the draft Paris Accord, ending the first week of negotiations. Norway, the UK and the EU have been key players in this removal of the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Despite such vocal objections from Indigenous Peoples and their allies, the operative text of the Paris Accord, as it stands today, has had the rights of Indigenous Peoples language/clauses removed, and there is now a proposal to have ‘Human Rights’ removed as well. At present, this leaves the rights of Indigenous Peoples only reflected within the preamble – which is purely aspirational text, and not legally binding or enforceable in any way.
“The inclusion of the rights of Indigenous Peoples text, in addition to Human Rights text is crucial. A Western, non-Indigenous evaluation of Human Rights does not necessarily adequately protect our rights as Indigenous Peoples,” states Princess Daazhraii Johnson, REDOIL Alaska spokesperson.
“Many of our Indigenous peoples still live off the land, living a subsistence-based lifestyle. And given that many of the world’s fossil fuel reserves are on or adjacent to Indigenous lands, we must protect our collective rights to self-determine our relationship to Mother Earth by rejecting false solutions to addressing climate change,” concluded Ms. Johnson.
In addition, many countries do not recognize the collective rights of Indigenous Peoples as Human Rights. The Western international human rights system is oriented towards individual rights, and so a general reference to human rights does not adequately protect the collective rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“At the moment the rights of Indigenous Peoples all over the globe are being violated by ‘green climate projects’ – such as hydropower dams – in the name of ‘climate mitigation’. If such violations are happening now, imagine what will come with a legally binding document, where the rights of Indigenous Peoples are not guaranteed,” stated Eriel Deranger, member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.
Positions against both the exclusion of Human Rights and Indigenous Rights in the operative text are said to be based on concerns about potential legal liability, if climate change is judged to have violated those rights.
With the draft Paris agreement heavily focused on voluntary market-based technological solutions – such as forest and conservation offsets – Indigenous Peoples are gravely concerned that without concrete Indigenous Rights language (and safeguards from privatisation) codified in the operative text, they will be further displaced from their lands. Green economy schemes (like the World bank REDD+) provide financial mechanisms for industrialised nations to justify expansion of fossil fuel regimes – such as Canada’s controversial Tar Sands giga-project in Northern Alberta, or offshore drilling in Alaska’s outer continental shelf. This disproportionately impacts Indigenous Peoples of the North, all the while simultaneously privatising Indigenous Peoples lands in the South for the purposes of laundering Western carbon pollution, via the above-mentioned forest and conservation offsets.
“Our fight to get Indigenous Peoples Rights included in the operative text, is non-negotiable,” states Crystal Lameman,Treaty Coordinator and Communications Manager for the Beaver Lake Cree Nation. “We belong in this treaty, we have a place in this discussion. Our future and the future of our children is not up for negotiation. The removal of operative Article 2.2 is the erasure of our existence as People of Color, Indigenous Peoples and frontline communities because we surely will be the first to experience climate catastrophe”
As we enter the second week of negotiations of the Paris Accord, Indigenous People will continue to lobby and challenge those who oppose the inclusion of Human Rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples into the operative text.
“We cannot negotiate a climate agreement at this critical time without the recognition of the rights of Indigenous Peoples, who are on the front lines of the impacts of climate change and the innovators of solutions we need to stabilize our climate. For the benefit of all human beings, we are fighting for a meaningful outcome from these negotiations, and the rights of Indigenous Peoples MUST be included in Article 2.2 of the Paris Accord,” stated Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network.