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Native Sun News: Native activists meet on climate change

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman. All content © Native Sun News.

Protesters at U.N.climate change summit in Durban, South Africa, link tar sands crude to global warming. Photo courtesy Indigenous Environmental Network.

Ben Powless. Photo courtesy Norwegian Barents Secretariat

While First Nations activists rallied in Durban, South Africa, against tar-sands crude-oil, the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change meeting there at the Kyoto Protocol summit pleaded with negotiators for a legally binding international accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Kyoto Protocol took effect in 2005, setting binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by an average of 5 percent against 1990 levels over the five-year period 2008-2012.

“We recognize that the Kyoto Protocol is the only legally binding international instrument we have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) spokesman Ben Powless told the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Kyoto Protocol meeting in Durban on Nov. 29.

With failure to reach compliance by the looming 2012 deadline, critics of the negotiations process have abandoned hope for it or a proposed new set of targets to deliver more stringent emission reductions. However, supporters still consider it a way to reach an international agreement for global cooperation on climate change mitigation and adaptation.

“Indigenous Peoples, especially in Africa, are already suffering from the impacts of climate change. We do not have time to wait. We need a commitment for a legally binding outcome,” Powless said on behalf of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change.

However, he noted, “Indigenous peoples are concerned that Annex I countries are actively working towards burying the Kyoto Protocol instead of delivering the emissions cuts necessary to save our precious Mother Earth, and all life.

“This could result in at least five degrees warming, and could lead to the destruction of our cultures and the ecocide of our territories,” Powless warned.

The protocol pertains to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change , which divides countries into three main groups according to differing commitments: Annex I countries are the 37 industrialized nations that were members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 1992, such as the United States, and countries with economies in transition, including the Russian Federation, the Baltic States, and several Central and Eastern European States.

Many of them, including the United States, have made no commitment to comply.

“We acknowledge the Kyoto Protocol has many flaws, including violations of human rights within the implementation of the Clean Development Mechanism,” Powless told the working group. “We are also concerned at the possible inclusion of nuclear power as a CDM measure. However, the prospect of Kyoto dying in Durban, without a viable alternative, would be disastrous. We instead want to see the Protocol strengthened.”

The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) established by the protocol is a market-based trading instrument that allows industrialized countries’ to meet reduction commitments by claiming offsets for their business’ investments in conservation in developing countries.

“We would consider only alternatives to market-based mechanisms for adaptation and mitigation funding,” Powless stressed. “We also call for the Ad Hoc Working Group of the Kyoto Protocol to incorporate safeguards for adaptation and mitigation measures that are negatively impacting Indigenous Peoples.”

Adaptation, in the context of climate change, entails developing ways to increase resilience to the impacts of climate change. Mitigation means human intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks (elimination mechanisms) of greenhouse gases. Examples include using fossil fuels more efficiently for industrial processes or electricity generation, switching to solar energy or wind power, improving the insulation of buildings, and expanding forests to remove greater amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“Measures must be included to recognize indigenous peoples’ rights to lands, territories and resources, full and effective participation, as well as the right to free, prior and informed consent, in line with applicable universal human rights instruments, including the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” Powless continued.

The declaration, which just had its first anniversary, covers indigenous peoples’ participation in decision-making matters and states’ duty to consult and cooperate in good faith with indigenous people to obtain free, prior and informed consent.

“Indigenous rights and indigenous knowledge must be recognized in discussions of land use, land-use change and forestry,” Powless stated.

IEN and other representatives of indigenous constituencies are concerned about the U.N.’s voluntary carbon offset mechanism known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD). They warn that REDD could offer polluting industries a way to avoid emissions reduction through relatively cheap offsets and allow them to actually increase pollution, while disenfranchising indigenous populations.

REDD is no substitute for legally binding commitments to emissions reductions, IEN Director Tom Goldtooth told the Native Sun News.

“We also reiterate our support for an Indigenous Peoples’ Expert Group to be formed under the Kyoto Protocol jointly with indigenous peoples, Powless concluded.

The International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change is an ad hoc coalition of indigenous civil society organizations with a majority of representatives from South America, Africa, Pacific Islands, South Asia and Melanesia.

Forum participants in the annual rounds of climate change negotiations have continued to seek formal admittance to the negotiations, but the official Conference of Parties has remained closed to indigenous people’s direct participation, according to Center for World Indigenous Studies co-found Rudolph Ryser, a Cowlitz tribal member.

The forum’s presentations at climate talks have the standing of non-governmental organizations.

“Indigenous peoples do not have official standing as peoples or governing nations despite the reality that indigenous peoples possess 80 percent of the world’s last remaining biodiversity that sustains life on the planet,” Ryser says.

Indigenous participants in the Durban round of climate talks joined a rally there on Nov. 30 to support the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in its quest to hold Shell Oil Company of Canada to commitments on tar-sands projects in traditional territory.

During a simultaneous rally at company headquarters in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, First Nation Chief Allan Adam and Council served Shell executives papers of intent to sue for failure to meet contractual agreements made between Shell and the First Nation regarding existing tar sands projects.

Also concurrent with the rallies, American Indian and Canadian tribal leaders held a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., announcing they will present the White House with the Mother Earth Accord opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline for tar-sands crude.

The Mother Earth Accord, signed at Rosebud Oyate, calls for a halt to tar-sands exploitation and related pipeline development, due to the fossil fuel’s potential to exacerbate climate change and the pipeline’s threat to land, water and cultural resources.

(Talli Nauman is Health and Environment Editor for Native Sun News. Contact her at

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