August 7, 2019.- Despite being a small group of only eight people among the more than 1,000 participants at the UN Climate Meeting in Abu Dhabi in June, indigenous peoples were able to have their voices heard and put indigenous peoples’ rights on the agenda.
In her summary of a three-hour long synergy-session, the Director of the UN Environmental Programme, Inger Andersen, highlighted key issues that were raised by the indigenous representatives emphasising that consistency between international laws and governments’ actions must be ensured and that indigenous peoples’ rights must be respected in all climate activities at all decision-making levels, as well as on the ground.
Indigenous peoples constitute only five per cent of the world’s population, but 80 per cent of the planet’s remaining biodiversity is found on indigenous peoples’ lands and territories. Therefore, while the urgency for addressing climate change is well-known, what isn’t as well known is that indigenous peoples, who have a long and deep understanding of the world’s ecosystems, can play a crucial role in combatting climate change, but only if their rights are respected and their contributions are acknowledged and financially supported.
Indigenous peoples’ three key messages
During the meeting, indigenous peoples’ highlighted three key messages for ensuring stronger climate action globally: securing indigenous peoples’ land rights, integrating human rights as the underlying principle of all climate actions, and ensuring finance for indigenous peoples to uphold their way of life and adapt to the consequences of climate change we are already experiencing.
Despite having protected, managed and lived on their lands for centuries, indigenous peoples’ rights to their land is not legally recognised in most of the countries where they live. Securing indigenous peoples’ land rights has been proven to lead to lower deforestation rates and higher biodiversity compared to other areas.
Simply put: when less trees are cut down, forests remain standing, meaning plants and animals can continue to live and thrive in a safe ecosystem, and carbon emissions can continue to be absorbed rather than be let loose in our atmosphere, a circumstance that is exacerbated when trees are cut down.
Therefore, securing indigenous peoples’ land rights to ensure their long-held sustainable practices can continue presents a critical and largely un-tapped opportunity to increase carbon storage, restore degraded land, reduce emissions, improve food security, and diminish the likelihood of climate-related conflicts.
Consequently, to ensure this is safeguarded and the contribution of indigenous peoples to climate mitigation and adaptation actions continues, dedicated, scaled-up and predictable financing is essential.
Breaking away from business as usual
The UN Climate Action Summit is being promoted as an innovative process within the UN-system that seeks to break away from business as usual, calling for more action and less talk from the world’s leaders when it comes to our climate. The purpose of the 30 June- 1 July 2019 meeting in Abu Dhabi was to take stock of what governments and businesses are planning to do to address the climatic emergency the world is facing, which will be presented at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York in September.
Indigenous peoples’ representatives from Latin America, Asia, and Africa, including three indigenous youth delegates, and IWGIA participated in the meeting to urge governments and private sector representatives to take indigenous peoples’ rights into account in the world’s global climate actions.
For the highly promoted UN Climate Action Summit to truly break away with business as usual, which has included the historical marginalisation of indigenous peoples in development practice and decision-making, indigenous peoples should be given a space and voice at the summit for governments and businesses to responsibly acknowledge and address.
The UN Climate Action Summit
The UN Climate Action Summit seeks to increase ambition and accelerate climate action in the short and long term. The UN Secretary General António Guterres has called on all governments and business leaders to come to New York on 23 September to commit to and collaborate on increasing ambitions for combating climate change. Governments should present concrete, realistic plans to enhance their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) by 2020, in line with reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent over the next decade, and to net zero emissions by 2050.
A UN Special Envoy on Climate Action Summit, Luis de Alba, has been appointed to spearhead the process. The summit will bring together governments, the private sector, civil society, local authorities and other international organisations to develop ambitious solutions in six areas: a global transition to renewable energy; sustainable and resilient infrastructures and cities; sustainable agriculture and management of forests and oceans; resilience and adaptation to climate impacts; and alignment of public and private finance with a net zero economy.
The following nine tracks/key action areas have been identified under the UN Climate Action Summit, where governments will lead in different coalitions to raise ambitions and progress: Finance, Energy Transition, Industry Transition, Nature-Based Solutions, Cities and Local Action, Resilience and Adaptation, Mitigation Strategy, Youth and Public Mobilization, and Social and Political Drivers.