8 December, 2015

World Indigenous Peoples play their last cards during COP21

Indigenous leaders state that world’s biodiversity would be at risk if indigenous rights are not included in the Paris Agreement.

Indigenous leaders state that world’s biodiversity would be at risk if indigenous rights are not included in the Paris Agreement.

Tarcila Rivera Zea, is an indigenous woman from Ayacucho, one of the poorest regions in the Andes of Peru. Last week, while States negotiate the Paris Agreement during the climate change summit (COP21), Ayacucho was ravaged by a strong hailstorm that destroyed about 300 hectares of potatoes, a source of livelihood for more than 100 Quechua families.

According to Rivera, with the destruction of these crops, communities have not only lost their food supply for the next six months, but also the possibility of preserving the seed for the next planting season.” The increased frequency and intensity of these climate disasters threaten the survival of not only the men and women who inhabit these mountains, but of the more than 200 varieties of highly nutritious and multicolored potatoes, corn and beans, which could help humanity eradicate hunger and malnutrition in the world”, she said.

In the present, as a globally recognized leader, Rivera has come to Paris in the hope that States recognize and support the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples in their development of strategies to adapt to and mitigate climate change. However, the ideals advocated by Rivera seem to crumble in the face of the position taken by developed countries like Norway and the United States, who refused to include in the draft agreement –which was submitted to the ministers this Saturday– an expressed commitment to respect the rights of indigenous peoples. Thus, indigenous peoples like Rivera´s, despite being the ones who suffer the impacts of climate change the most, would be the ones most excluded in the Paris Agreement.

soberanía y seguridad alimentaria

The International Indigenous Peoples Caucus (IIPFCC) composed of the seven cultural regions of the world that are participating in the negotiations on climate change in Paris, held last Friday a public protest for what they consider a “betrayal” by the most polluting countries on the planet.

The Indigenous Peoples’ Global Partnership on Climate Change, Forests and Sustainable Development, a coalition composed of 18 indigenous organizations in 13 countries from Latin America, Africa and Asia, have requested countries such as the Philippines and Mexico to pressure other States, to maintain the reference to the rights of indigenous peoples in Article 2 of the draft agreement. This section would be key because it establishes the basic principles that should guide the attainment of the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

“Thankfully this remains in the Annex, which would allow for our basic rights to be put back into Article 2, if the political will of the States permits it,” said Joseph Ole Simel, an indigenous Maasai from Kenya and head of the Mainyoito Pastoralists Integrated Development Organization, MPIDO.

According to Ole Simel, although indigenous peoples believe that being considered in some sections of this document is a breakthrough, they still firmly believe that with no specific mention in this Article 2, they would be exposed to mitigation projects being developed in their territories that could risk their livelihoods and sovereignty over their territories.

In Kenya, says Ole Simel, the creation of national parks and nature reserves, without consultation with indigenous peoples, has caused territorial conflicts between communities and the displacement of hundreds of families who lost their traditional right of access to pasture land, and therefore, to maintain the traditional lifestyle of the Maasai. According to Ole Simel, failure to achieve a specific commitment on behalf of States would “reinforce a system that continues to discriminate against indigenous peoples”.


The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz said that if the rights of indigenous peoples are not recognized in the Paris Agreement, countries would have “destroyed any real intention to mitigate climate change”.

“It is very unfortunate that countries known for promoting human rights and advancing democratic ideals globally are reportedly leading a bloc of nations that would remove from the negotiating text language that commits countries to respect indigenous peoples in the implementation of plans for addressing climate change”, she expressed.

For the Special Rapporteur, failure to protect indigenous peoples’ rights in the final agreement will fuel destruction of the forests and other ecosystems managed since time immemorial by indigenous peoples.

Meanwhile, members of this indigenous peoples´ global partnership are bracing for the worst case scenario at the end of COP21. “Even if we are not mentioned in the text, indigenous peoples will continue to fight for our rights to be recognized once the implementation of the Paris Agreement is to be implemented in our countries,” said Ole Simel.