Guide on Climate Change & Indigenous Peoples
Source: Tebtebba Foundation
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz

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The severity of the impacts of climate change and mitigation processes on indigenous peoples and the complex negotiating processes around climate change compels us to have a basic understanding of climate change and the policies and actions being taken to address it. We, indigenous peoples, have long observed and adapted to the climatic changes in our communities for tens of thousands of years. Because of our sustainable lifestyles and our struggles against deforestation and against oil and gas extraction, we have significantly contributed in keeping gigatonnes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases under the ground and in the trees. However, the extent and magnitude of present-day climate change seriously challenges our capacities to cope and adapt. Many of the environmental challenges we face, be these climate change, pollution, environmental degradation, etc., are caused not by our own actions but mainly by the dominant societies who are incessantly pursuing a development path of unsustainable production and consumption. Climate change is the biggest proof that this dominant development model is unsustainable and therefore needs to be changed. International cooperation and solidarity to support our adaptation initiatives and to strengthen our contributions to climate change mitigation is crucial.

Unfortunately, we have been excluded from the negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol and even in the discussions and implementation of these at the national level.

We believe that, given the opportunity, we can contribute substantially to the discussions and decisions made on climate change policies and actions not only at the national level but also at the global level. We also believe that the recentlyadopted United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples should be the overarching framework upon which climate actions and policies as these relate to indigenous peoples should be based.

It is in this light that Tebtebba prepared this “Guide on Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change.” The aim of this publication is to enhance our knowledge on climate change so that we will be better equipped to participate more effectively in shaping relevant policies and actions taken to address this issue. It also aims to enlighten non-indigenous peoples on our own experiences and perspectives on climate change. We are aware of the existence of recently written materials on indigenous peoples and climate change but most of these are not written by us and therefore lack the perspectives we have to offer. This publication is aimed to fill the dearth of such materials. It is designed as a guide that will provide the basic information which we deem indigenous peoples should have on their hands.

Hopefully, it will allow all of us to appreciate more fully how climate change issues are related to our basic struggles for rights to lands, territories and resources, right to culture and to self-determination, including our right to development.

v The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) announced that the special theme for its 7th Session (April 21-May 2, 2008) is on “Climate change, bio-cultural diversity and livelihoods: the stewardship role of indigenous peoples and new challenges.” There have been some climate change workshop-seminars and consultations organized by indigenous peoples and some support groups and UN bodies which have already taken place. So this publication draws on some recommendations which emerged from these processes.1 It will also use information from the documents prepared for the UNPFII sessions such as the overview paper made by the UNPFII Secretariat and the Report on the Impact of Climate Change Mitigation Measures on Indigenous Peoples and their Territories and Lands” [E/C.19/2008/10], as well as the Report of the 7th Session of the UNPFII [E/C.19/2008/13].

Why should we be concerned about climate change?

We should be concerned about climate change because of the following:

 Indigenous peoples, mainly, are peoples of the land. We live off the land and resources found in our lands and waters. We are the main stewards of biological and cultural diversity. Our rights, cultures, livelihoods, traditional knowledge and identities are based on the profound and intricate relationships we forged with our lands, waters, and resources over thousands of years. Thus, when our lands and resources disappear or get altered, due to climate change, we suffer the worst impacts;

 Our ancestors and we, the present generations, have coped and adapted to climate change for thousands of years. However, the magnitude and nature of present-day climate change seriously challenges our resilience and our capacities to adapt. We contributed the least to climate change because of our sustainable traditional livelihoods and lifestyles and yet we are the ones who are heavily impacted by it;

 Some mitigation measures agreed upon and promoted under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol (the Clean Development Mechanism and emissions trading schemes) and other market-based mechanisms have adverse impacts on indigenous peoples. These range from displacement or relocation from ancestral territories, land grabs, serious human rights violations to the exacerbation of environmental degradation of our lands;

 Because of the above, we believe that we should be concerned about climate change and we should be included in negotiations and decisionmaking processes and bodies dealing with climate change.

What will be contained in this Guide?

First, we will discuss the basics of climate change, including mitigation and adaptation measures. This chapter will contain brief explanations of the bodies, mechanisms and processes addressing climate change. We will use illustrations and pictures culled from other sources to explain more graphically the main points. Then we will show the impacts of climate change and mitigation measures on indigenous peoples who live in diverse ecosystems as well as on indigenous women.

A chapter on REDD, currently under negotiation, will discuss what this proposal is about and the risks and opportunities this presents to indigenous peoples. This is very important since funding schemes and pilot projects are being set up and implemented by various bodies even while negotiations are ongoing. A few examples of adaptation and mitigation processes done by indigenous peoples at the local levels will also be discussed. The current state of negotiations from Bali to Copenhagen (COP15) will be explained, including the key results of the recent climate change talks in Bangkok (April 2008), Bonn (June 2008) and Accra (August 2008).

The last part will respond to the following questions: “What is our advocacy agenda on climate change? Does this agenda integrate the human rights-based approach to development and the ecosystems approach? What role does the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples play in promoting our climate change agenda? What are the ways forward for us to influence the Post-Bali negotiations to Copenhagen (2009) and beyond?”

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz Executive Director,
Tebtebba Chairperson,
UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
05 September 2008


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