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Countdown to Copenhagen: Adapt or Perish

Published: November 21, 2009, Author: MHirch

Changes in plant and animal life, topography, glaciers, oxygen levels in the ocean, extreme changes in the weather and changes in human health can either be a product of human activity affects (CO2 and other greenhouse gases for example or they can be just a part of the grand cycle of earth changes.  Either way, there is no denying the environmental changes. As with many other life forms on the planet, human beings are faced with the requirement to adapt or accept the ultimate–extinction.  Pretty dramatic and perhaps even hyperbolic though these words may be, it is entirely reasonable to think that human beings have the same exposure to big changes in the environment as do all other living things.  If we look at what all other living things are doing in the face of environmental changes we must notice that the plants and animals that adapt to the changes survive and make new generations; those that do not adapt simply perish.

A little more than a year ago in Indonesia’s Bali, states’ government parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change hammered out a schedule for negotiations to draft and agree to a Climate Change Treaty that would replace the Kyoto Protocols. The Protocols were originally adopted on 11 December 1997 and formally activated in February 2005 with 187 states’ governments signing–not including the United States of America (responsible for about 26% of carbon dioxide emissions). The Bali conferees agreed to a schedule and agenda that would lead to the signing of a new Climate Change Treaty in December 2010 in Copenhagen, Denmark. Preparatory meetings of states’ governments, corporations, non-governmental organizations, indigenous peoples, labor, business and religious organizations have met nearly every month since Bali attempting to work out the language for a final treaty agreement.  In the June 2009 the “negotiating text” was placed before conference participants and thus began the process of winnowing the language paragraph by paragraph.

Months after the beginning of these “preparatory text sessions” UNFCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer expressed his view that the “parties will not meet the December deadline.”  His conclusion? there will not be a legal agreement establishing a treaty in 2010. Leaders attending the ASEAN meeting in Singapore last week jointly concluded that the climate change treaty scheduled for December 2009 would not occur; and that the best that can be achieved is an unenforcible  “political agreement” instead of an enforcible “legal agreement” in the form of a treaty. In other words, the best efforts since Bali have resulted in a delay.  Most of this delay is due to the inability of “developing countries” and “developed countries” to agree on payments to the developing countries and established CO2 reduction targets for developed countries. The treaty cannot be concluded. Despite considerable efforts to insert language that will benefit indigenous peoples, virtually no progress was made on this topic either.

A small contingent of indigenous organization and nation representatives have been working diligently over the past several years to prepare draft treaty language acceptable to a highly diverse collection of indigenous nations in equally diverse ecological and political environments–language states’ government parties would see fit to include in the treaty.  The International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change, an ad hoc body created to participate in the treaty talks has had a tough go of it. Indigenous nations like the Quinault Indian Nation and inter-tribal bodies like the Arctic Athabascan Council have also worked to participate in the treaty process with a similarly tough go.  None of the indigenous representatives have the financial resources or political clout to fully participate, but through persistence and careful organization the “indigenous peoples’ perspective” is slowly seeping into the treaty.  Thanks to the activist and indigenous peoples supporting role of the government of Bolivia, there is more said about indigenous peoples in the climate change meetings than were that government to be headed by a non-Indian.

The AD HOC WORKING GROUP ON LONG-TERM COOPERATIVE ACTION UNDER THE CONVENTION released on 20 November its  report on its seventh session, held in Bangkok from 28 September to 9 October 2009, and Barcelona from 2 to 6 November 2009 (FCCC/AWGLCA/2009/14). Representing, for all intents and purposes the “negotiating text” going into the Conference of Parties 15 session in December (originally the final treaty signing session, but not now) this report illustrates how far negotiators must still go before getting a final treaty.  The efforts of indigenous peoples so far have succeeded getting fragments of references to indigenous peoples twelve times in the negotiating text primarily benefiting the states’ government parties, with virtually no benefit going to indigenous peoples.

Here are brief notes about references to indigenous peoples in the negotiating text:

1. Being identified as a vulnerable population
2. Identified as a beneficiary of institution technical assistance and financial support in developing countries
3. Indigenous knowledge identified as one source to best coordinate disaster planning and response,
4, Country established Adaptation Centers should Collecting, analyze and disseminate information on past and current practical adaptation actions and measures, including projects, resulting from traditional knowledge,
5. Regional Centers will generate and share knowledge; exchanging lessons learned and best practices; collecting, analysing and disseminating information on past and current practical adaptation actions and
measures, including projects, short-and long-term strategies, and local and indigenous
6. In accord with relevant international agreements [, such as the United Nations
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,] and taking into account national
circumstances and legislation, respect the knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples [,
including their free, prior and informed consent,] and members of local communities and
promote the full and effective participation of all relevant stakeholders in actions;
7. While addressing factors causing deforestation, land tenure conflicts, forest governance the parties seek the “full and effective participation of indigenous peoples.
8. Keep in mind the linkage between mitigation and adaption and in this connection small farmers such as indigenous farmers.
9. Promotion of “co-benefits”, particularly those that fully respect the rights of Indigenous peoples…,
10. Use indigenous technologies in connection with national adaptation plans.
11. Document and “scale up” indigenous adaptation technologies for which already exist in developing countries.
12. Enhance and strengthen national networks of information and knowledge including…indigenous knowledge, experiences, information and best practices of developing countries.

Indigenous peoples call for the application of traditional knowledge and practices for their benefit and recognized as legitimate by the state, but the current text basically says that such knowledge may be useful to maintain and promote the state.

Indigenous peoples must continue to work for not only recognition of their traditional knowledge, and respectful roles in relation to the environment, but they must actively claim for themselves immediate application of the traditional knowledge they argue is so very important.  That knowledge, the exercise of sovereign powers in traditional territories, the exercise of governing powers in those territories are essential now to develop and implement indigenous peoples’ adaptation plans.  Even without states’ governments, indigenous peoples must actively take positive action on their own to adapt to the changing climate. Indigenous peoples are pe
rhaps the most vulnerable as is often argued at these international meetings, but unless indigenous peoples in each of their unique environments take action on their own, they will become enablers for the various states while the weather erases them from the earth.

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