What the Paris Agreement's references to indigenous peoples mean

By: Chris Meyer, Environmental Defense Fund, and Estebancio Castro, Independent Indigenous Leader

paris_indigenous

The Paris Agreement makes five explicit references to indigenous peoples, their rights, and their traditional knowledge. Above: A report launched at a December 2015 press conference in Paris found indigenous territories hold one-fifth of the world’s tropical forest carbon. Credit: Environmental Defense Fund

Indigenous peoples are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, but they can also play a crucial role in stabilizing the climate. Though the 1997 Kyoto Protocol didn’t include a single reference to indigenous peoples, the Paris Agreement– though not perfect – made some great strides.

The Paris Agreement and implementing decisions include:

  • five explicit references to indigenous peoples, their rights, and their traditional knowledge. These appear in the preambles of both the Paris Agreement and the Decision text, and in specific topic areas of the exchange of experiences and adaptation.
  • a reference to a topic important to indigenous peoples, non-carbon benefits in relation to Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+).

Importantly, the references to indigenous peoples in the preamble to the Paris Agreement, and repeated in the preamble to the Decision text, say that countries need to respect indigenous peoples’ rights when taking action to address climate change. It’s significant that this rights language is included in the preambles, as it ensures these rights will be part of the framing of the whole agreement and implementing decisions.

The Paris Agreement and its Decision texts contain important references to indigenous peoples' rights that can help drive change at the country levels, where it is most needed.

The other references to indigenous peoples discuss the need to include them in the exchange of knowledge, especially considering the topic of adaptation. As they are one of the more vulnerable groups, they will need access to more western knowledge to support their own indigenous knowledge about how to adapt to climate change and protect their livelihoods. Additionally, the Paris Agreement recognizes indigenous peoples' “traditional knowledge” as an asset for helping themselves – and their neighbors – adapt.

Indigenous peoples for many years advocated strongly for the consideration of non-carbon benefits as a part of REDD+, including through a number of formal submissions to the process. The inclusion of explicit language in the REDD+ article to promote non-carbon benefits reflects their efforts and the importance of the topic.

The Paris Agreement and its Decision text aren’t perfect, and though some may have wished to see a greater number of specific references to these rights in the text, the Paris outcome was kept intentionally broad so it could be applicable to nearly 200 countries.

Regardless, we see important references to indigenous peoples' rights in the Paris Agreement and its Decision texts that, together with other international human rights instruments, can now be leveraged to drive change at the country levels, where it is most needed. That is the challenge in the years to come – to ensure indigenous peoples and their rights are adequately represented and respected in countries’ policies and actions they take to implement the Paris Agreement.

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One Comment

  1. alvincm
    Posted February 26, 2016 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    While I appreciate Chris Meyer's synopsis, it paints an optimistic picture,and that picture may give us a wrong impression about the state of Post Paris indigenous and climate.

    The legally enforceable portion of the Paris Agreement, the operational section, excludes indigenous references. However the historic development here is twofold. One change is from indigenous not being considered even as objects of climate change impacts as peoples but rather as unidentified "minorities" depending on the diplomatic references in their region, to now being considered as objects of such impacts. The fact that they were included in the pre-amble officially recognizes that, but only that. That is a historical accomplishment, but it has little legal impact on adaptation policy in international organizations or at national levels. Contrary to the analysis offered in this article, without international instruments protecting indigenous rights, national governments have little to no political incentive to now include them in adaptation planning. That is unfortunately – wishful thinking.

    Certainly in Latin America that is the standard, with a few exceptions. Superficial, local consultations after key framework planning documents are already written, is only then carried out, if at all. That level of inclusion merely serves to whitewash their substantive exclusion, but makes it palatable to outside observers and NGO's that make money off of advocating for vulnerable groups.

    That is because national governments of developing countries will fund national adaptation through international adaptation finance mechanisms, and if those international mechanisms and their sponsors institutions (GEF, the Green Fund, etc.) do not establish international standards for indigenous' input at the policy level, there will be only weak procedural inclusion of indigenous representation, and even that is often jettisoned when it is outside the normal practice of national ministries that deal with land use issues.

    Peru had that experience in the Amazon basin, having to pull in the UNDP to open a line of communication to the indigenous organizations in their own country, after their exclusionary stake holder process failed. It failed to remember – that indigenous peoples live there.

    The second idea, that exchanges of climate and land use knowledge will happen, is a desirable goal for implementing effective adaptation from indigenous lessons that their knowledge can have on the larger societies, especially rural ones. However that has not been developed beyond ad hoc attempts to be inclusive; and usually more "inclusive" the closer that national delegates get in the run up to the looming COP meetings – so as not to be embarrassed by the lack of actual “inclusion” in policy formation. Then a few paragraphs can mention indigenous as vulnerable groups. Presumably, vulnerable groups that have be taken care of by national governments; not that their indigenous knowledge should also inform adaptation policy and its finance for prioritization of adaptation needed across sectors.

    The UNFCCC has not yet established a permanent and differentiated regional mechanism to both engage indigenous at the level of scientific knowledge, nor have the COP agreements provided for such a fora in their negotiations, which are political agreements- not climate change research efforts; political agreements informed by science that excludes indigenous knowledge necessarily then excludes indigenous then in national adaptation planning, because their knowledge is not taken into consideration for balancing their own subsistence and market economy activities, to name just one challenge.

    That should be the goal, to create a political representation in the process moving forward, and not expecting indigenous communities to make gargantuan efforts at calling out their national governments and then the international organizations about their exclusive practices, each and every COP. Indigenous have the least resources of any sector to even be there in the first place.

    Environmental groups have not yet created the necessary tools to advocate for a larger and more systemic inclusion of indigenous for the obvious reason that indigenous peoples are extremely diverse and complex, not unlike the natural areas they inhabit, and environmental organizations are themselves outside the decision making structure of the UNFCCC. Their influence can be improved, but articles such as this miss the boat. There are over 300 million indigenous worldwide, roughly the same population as the United States.

    How long can the world afford to be ignorant about indigenous knowledge in terms of climate and land use, and then how long will it take to incorporate practical solutions for adaptation?

    One clue can be found in the history, insightfully researched in Charles Mann’s book, 1493 about the establishment of Jamestown as a colony by English settlers. I encourage the EDF to work harder, to invite indigenous networks of advocacy to their own table and make a commitment, otherwise, the people who have cared for the environment long before any of us messed it up – will continue to be excluded. Of course it was never a pristine environment in the first place, it was the environment that other peoples lived in, learned from, and respected.

    B. Gentry
    AmaConsultants.org

    _____________
    The legally enforceable portion of the Paris Agreement, the operational section, excludes indigenous references. However the historic development here is two fold. One change is from indigenous not being considered even as objects of climate change impacts as peoples but as unidentified "minorities" depending on the diplomatic references in their region, to now being considered as objects of such impacts.

    The fact that they were included in the pre-amble officially recognizes that, but only that. That is a historical accomplishment, but it has little legal impact on adaptation policy in international organizations or at national levels. Contrary to the analysis offered in this artilce, without international instruments protecting indigenous rights, national governments have little to no political incentive to now include them in adaptation planning. That is unfortunately – wishful thinking.

    Certainly in Latin America that is the standard, with a few exceptions. Superficial, local consultations after key framework planning documents are already written, is only then carried out, if at all. That level of "inclusion" serves to merely whitewash their substantive exclusion, but makes it palatable to outside observers and NGO's that make money off of advocating for vulnerable groups.

    That is because national governments of developing countries will fund national adaptation through international mechanisms of finance, and if those international institutions (the Green Fund, etc) do not establish international standards for indigenous in put at the policy level, there will be only weak procedural inclusion of indigenous representation, and even that is often jettisoned when it is outside the normal practice of national ministries that deal with land use issues. Peru had that experience in the Amazon basin, having to pull in UNDP to open a line of communication to the indigenous organizations in their own country, after their exclusionary stake holder process, just happenned to forget that indigenous peoples live there.

    The second idea, that exchanges of climate and land use knowledge will happen, is a desirable goal for implementing effective adaptation from indigenous lessons that their knowledge can have on the larger societies, especially rural ones. However that has not been developed beyond ad hoc attempts to be "inclusive"; and usually "inclusive" the closer that national delegates get in the run up to the looming COP meetings – so as not to be embarrassed by the lack of inclusion in policy formation.

    Then a few paragraphs can mention indigenous as vulnerable groups. Presumably, vulnerable groups that have be taken care of by national governments; not knowledge that informs adaptation policy or finance for prioritization of adaptation need across sectors.

    The UNFCCC has not yet established a permanent and differentiated regional mechanism to both engage indigenous at the level of scientific knowledge, nor have the COP agreements provided for such a fora in their negotiations, which are political agreements- not climate change research efforts. Political agreements informed by science that exclude indigenous knowledge necessarily exclude indigenous then in adaptation planning, because their knowledge is not taken into consideration for balancing subsistence and market economy activities, to name just one challenge.

    That should be the goal, to create a political representation in the process moving forward, and not expecting indigenous communities to make gargantuan efforts at calling out their national governments and then the international organizations about their exclusive practices, each and every COP. Indigenous have the least resources of any sector to even be there in the first place.

    Environmental groups have not yet created the necessary tools to advocate for a larger and more systemic inclusion of indigenous for the obvious reason that indigenous peoples are extremely diverse and complex, not unlike the natural areas they inhabit, and environmental organizations are themselves are outside the decision making structure of the UNFCCC. Their influence can be improved, but articles such as this miss the boat. There are over 300 million indigenous worldwide, roughly the same population as the United States.

    How long can the world afford to be ignorant about indigenous knowledge in terms of climate and land use, and then how long will it take to incorporate practical solutions for adaptation? I encourage the EDF to work harder, to invite indigenous networks of advocacy to their own table and make a commitment, otherwise, the people who have cared for the environment long before any of us messed it up will continue to excluded. Of course it was never a pristine environment, it was the environment that other peoples lived on, learned from, and respected.

    B. Gentry
    AmaConsultants.org

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