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Bali climate conference tramples Indigenous rights

By Archives January 8, 2008

The International Forum of Indigenous Peoples on Climate Change (IFIPCC) expressed their profound concern at the Bali Climate Change Conference last month, stating that the outcome of the negotiations does not include any guarantee that the rights of Indigenous Peoples regarding their lands would be honoured.
Indigenous Peoples are very dependent upon their natural environment, thus the over-exploitation of forests, oil spills over coastlines and polar ecosystems destroyed by a carbon-based energy system threaten their very livelihoods.
This vulnerability is reason enough to give Indigenous Peoples a strong voice in the climate regime. But they have been ignored. Despite repeated requests, Indigenous Peoples were not given special status in Montreal in 2005, in Nairobi in 2006, nor at Bali in 2007.
Indigenous organizations were always registered, but could only enter the buildings as “NGOs.” To many, this might seem like a minor detail, but it is not. Agenda 21, a comprehensive global plan of action taken at the First Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 pointed out that Indigenous Peoples are not NGOs, they are Peoples.
Yet it is worth noting the special status of Indigenous Peoples is clearly recognized by international law, including the International Labour Organization and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The establishment of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues five years ago also focused on special status and participation rights in international policy making, the example being agreements like Kyoto.
For that reason, a process like the Convention on Biodiversity has long since established a clear special status for Indigenous Peoples’ organizations, with specific rights to participate in negotiations that are affecting them.
As the Indigenous Forum points out, “Indigenous territories and lands cover a vast variety of the world’s fragile, important and diverse ecosystems. The protection and conservation of these lands by Indigenous Peoples as the custodians through uncounted generations, is the lands’ best hope of survival and the best defense against the worst elements of climate change and its impacts.”
But about 20 indigenous people from countries including Nigeria, Kenya, Bangladesh, Samoa, Mexico and Indonesia — some in traditional dress — joined their brothers in a protest outside the Bali conference centre, because they were being excluded from key international climate change talks.
Some projects, the IFIPCC said, aimed at curbing global warming — such as renewable energy projects or biofuel crops – are actually encroaching on indigenous lands. Projects like REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in Developing countries) sound very ecological, but are trashing Indigenous lands and relocating people as land is gobbled up for crops and irrigation.
REDD looks like it’s going to be the biggest disaster for the forests since the Tropical Forestry Action Plan in the 1980s. Of course a bunch of consultants, aid agencies, the World Bank and carbon trading firms like it – because it will give them lots of work and money.
It sounds like the same old, same old, or the more things change.
Back in the 1980s, the World Bank promoted the paper industry in Sumatra, now one of the major causes of deforestation there, along with palm oil.
But Bali suggests that we’re supposed to forget about the World Bank’s history of destruction in the forests, because if only there were a market for “ecosystem services,” then the forests wouldn’t get cut down.
Addressing climate change is about commons, enclosure, rights, local people and leaving fossil fuels in the ground – not about creating a carbon market which will allow us to carry on polluting and trampling lands that we all need to survive.
So if mitigating climate change is top of the agenda, it is time to start listening to those people who have made a positive contribution to this planet, and are now becoming the main victim of those who failed to do so.