October 25, 2021

COP 26 and Indigenous People

Posted on October 25, 2021 by Jeanette Wolfley

Indigenous peoples are experiencing rising sea levels, relocating villages, declining salmon runs and failing wild rice fields. Tribal nations are on the front lines of climate change and are disproportionately experiencing its impacts, from loss of subsistence hunting and fishing ecosystems to changing weather patterns that harm traditional plants and medicines to forced relocation of tribal communities.  Indigenous people in the United States and around the world depend on the health of ecosystems and natural resources for cultural, social and economic vitality. Climate change threatens to destroy indigenous ways of life that have existed for thousands of years.

All of these dire situations are a part of the climate change issues that indigenous people wish to have addressed at the upcoming Conference of Parties (COP) 26 on climate change in Glasgow.  However, protection and preservation of land-based traditional indigenous food and medicinal resources, the exercise of their treaty hunting, fishing and gathering rights, and protecting indigenous ecological knowledge and lifeways is a difficult challenge because many countries do not recognize the rights of Indigenous peoples to be safeguarded or be part of any climate change discussion.

Indigenous people strongly supported the Paris Agreement of 2015 (COP 21) and were able to convince the state parties to agree to insert language in the Preamble that obligates the parties to respect and promote the respective obligations on human rights and the rights of indigenous peoples.  Still, many questions remain as to the role of indigenous people at the negotiating table, and their ability to effect change in climate policies because policy change is science and finance driven. Indigenous peoples’ representatives, comprised of tribal elders and youth delegates, treaty coalitions, and legal counsel, will urge the states to consider traditional ecological knowledge and solutions other than offsets, and mitigation efforts beyond those that only address the symptoms of mega fires, hurricanes and tornados. Their participation will seek to confirm the principles of free, prior and informed consent when considering climate change policies, and hold industry directly accountable.