Center for World Indigenous Studies
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Cancun, Climate and the Alternative

Published: November 27, 2010, Author: Rÿser Rudolph C.

For years now I have been writing in this column that while the idea of negotiating a global agreement on climate change is essential to the world’s wealth and health building local agreements and regional agreements would be necessary if there is to be success. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – 16th Conference of Parties (COP 16) meeting in Cancun, México opens this week under sunny skies and a huge political cloud.  After COP 15 in Copenhagen clearly failed last December, the meeting this December promises little in the way of marked achievements.

States’ government representatives have been meeting nearly each month since the failure in Copenhagen to rescue the faltering treaty negotiations. Some progress was made, but not much. The negotiation of a protocol on implementation of the benefit sharing commitments of another treaty–Convention on Biodiversity–nearly collapsed last month in Nagoya, Japan. (See: FWE “Access and Benefit: Genes“) Those negotiators drew together with the help of the Japanese government and made an agreement that they optimistically carry to Cancun for further agreement.

While the states’ governments stumble and fail to fulfill their own expectations indigenous peoples have made significant progress formulating developing principles and policies for treaty language that emphasize the employment of traditional knowledge, customary laws and the exercise of governing authority by indigenous peoples within the framework of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples principle: free, prior and informed consent.  Indigenous peoples through their representatives and cultural mediators have made major strides toward restoring their place among the peoples in the world with agreements like the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Convention on Biodiversity (Article 8j).

Indigenous cultural mediators conducted numerous meetings and communications with European States and in particular the European Union to promote the idea that indigenous peoples should be seated at the international climate change negotiations.  Today, the European Union included in its position papers a new principle going to Cancun. The European Union’s Parliament submitted its preparatory documents to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference in Cancun with an important new message for states’ government parties.  The relevant paragraph of their document reads as follows:

38.  Calls on the EU to advocate that the International Forum of Indigenous Peoples should become a Party to the COP16 negotiations, since such peoples are particularly affected by climate change and climate change adaptation and mitigation mechanisms;

The Center for World Indigenous Studies, working in cooperation
with the Quinault Indian Nation (like delegates from many indigenous nations) had met with representatives of several states’ governments over the last three years urging European states to adopt this position.  The Center has worked with the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change to press this principle in virtually every document.  We are
naturally pleased to see a small measure of progress toward making “a place at the table for indigenous peoples.”

You might say, “Why is that valuable now, since the climate negotiations seem on the verge of failure?” It is significant in large measure because the principle has been joined.  Indigenous nations have been advocating the concept for a very long time.  Now the European Union has made the concept safer for other political bodies to embrace.  Now it is possible to realistically consider indigenous nations exercising their “free, prior and informed consent” at the negotiating table in the future.

In preparation for the ultimate reality of “taking our place at the table,” indigenous nations must convene local and sub-regional climate change conferences to work out the language of agreement on the best policies for both indigenous peoples and local states’ governments to govern safe responses to climate change.  Agreements at the local and sub-regional levels could serve as the basis for Regional climate change conferences and ultimately formulation of a global agreement containing hundreds if not thousands of local and sub-regional agreements on climate change.

A global agreement can only come about if it directly reflects the ecologic and cultural realities at the local and sub-regional levels.  Making agreements at this level first is more manageable than annual meetings of 10 to 30 thousand people who can only represent large political and economic interests.  Indigenous peoples must lead the way now to the table by advancing the climate change debate with local and sub-regional agreements; and they must begin this year.

Chief George Manuel Memorial Indigenous Library

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