COP23 Is Over. What Did It Really Mean for Indigenous People?

by Suzanne Dhaliwal and Jade Begay

26 November 2017

Last week COP23 came to a conclusion in Bonn with a spectacular anti-climax. While much lip service was paid to the importance of the role of indigenous peoples in stopping fossil fuel extraction, the UNFCCC Knowledge Platform for Indigenous Peoples was hollow to say the least. Indeed, indigenous peoples’ rights are not fully recognised in the final platform document of COP23.

So why was there a news blackout on the real outcomes for local communities and indigenous peoples? It came down to two things: money and the media.

“During the COP23 conference there has been engaged discussion on the mitigation of climate change and the implementation of the agreements made in Paris during COP21,” said Dallas Goldtooth, an organiser for the Indigenous Environmental Network. “However, it’s been a real struggle to get parties – nation states – to take the sincere steps needed to addressing the climate chaos we are seeing across the globe.”

“There has been more emphasis on building up the monetisation of forests and trading carbon than there has been on the managed decline of fossil fuel production, and indigenous peoples are right in the middle of this.”

The COP itself is dominated by parties invested in the cycle of ‘CO2lonialism’, meaning business as usual for the fossil fuel industry, without any meaningful mechanisms for levelling emissions or phasing out fossil fuels.

“It’s important for grassroots and frontline communities to stand together because we as indigenous, young people of colour, women and queers are directly impacted when it comes to climate change and false solutions,” said Isabella Zizi from Idle No More SF Bay.

With President Trump pulling the US out of the whole climate process, and the White House continuing to promote coal, the US Climate Action Plan Centre was billed as the green friendly presence at the talks. However, it really was a showcase for big business such as Walmart and California governor Jerry Brown to waffle on about more false solutions, such as carbon pricing, while continuing to push for fracking back home and ignoring the devastating health impacts of refineries on local communities.

In resistance, the It Takes Roots delegation spent the duration of the COP23 building alliances between global movements and taking direct action to call out the false solutions being promoted by the US Climate Action Centre. Idle No More’s call during Jerry Brown’s speech for the governor to keep fossil fuels in the ground was met with the callous response: “Let’s put you in the ground.”

Although horrific, it was not surprising to see this behaviour from the US governor, who harboured such disdain towards frontline communities that he failed to apologise even when pushed to explain the meaning behind his comment.

However, it’s not just politicians who need to be held accountable: the establishment media plays a huge role in obfuscating the real outcomes of the COP process. Two days before the talks had even finished, the Guardian released an article that was legally incorrect which falsely declared that indigenous people of the world had won the fight for climate action.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

Alberto Saldamando, Attorney and Expert on Human Rights and Rights of Indigenous Peoples, with Indigenous Environmental Network explained the reality: “We are not waving the victory flags yet, the local communities and Indigenous Peoples platform does not recognise the rights of indigenous peoples in the human rights sense of the term “recognise”. It only “recalls” the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples in its preamble.”

“The platform for traditional knowledge should allow indigenous knowledge holders to advise and inform the UN climate conference in mitigation and adaptation. Notwithstanding what has been reported we are not negotiating or decision making.”

Moving forward, we see some room in the Indigenous Peoples platform to keep negotiating for indigenous knowledge and rights to be a part of the Paris Agreement. However, it is too little too late and definitely nothing for the media to celebrate. We now must continue the work begun by the It Takes Roots delegation by continuing to report on, and fight back against, false solutions to the climate crisis being pushed by governments, foundations and states. From joining the global divestment movement to advocating for the role of indigenous peoples in climate action, we can and must heed the calls of those on the frontlines. We cannot afford not to.

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