Indigenous Peoples Raise Their Voice

COPENHAGEN - Indigenous peoples from many parts of the world are losing their lands and cultures due to climate change. And they want their voices to be heard in the debate on arresting global warming.

"We have rights to our lands, to our territories and our environment," says Malia Nobrega from the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC). "This climate crisis," the IIPFCC states in its proposal to the climate summit in Copenhagen, "threatens the very survival of Indigenous peoples, particularly forest- and ice-dependent peoples, and the Indigenous peoples of small island states and local communities."

Forests mean more than just carbon to Indigenous peoples and local communities. They have historical, cultural and spiritual significance.

Joan Carling, secretary-general of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP), says Indigenous people across the globe know that climate change is largely caused by developed countries.

"They know also that they have the smallest carbon footprint but are the most severely affected by climate change," she adds.

Since developed countries are primarily responsible for causing global warming, the AIPP believes they have the duty to commit to ambitious cuts and to financing the mitigation and transfer of technology to developing countries.

"This is to recognise and acknowledge their historical debt," she said.

Indigenous peoples also provide solutions, drawing on traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of Indigenous peoples, especially relating to mitigation and climate change.

On this point, they argue that they have managed the ecosystems for generations, nurturing their integrity and complexity in sustainable and culturally diverse ways.

These include mobile pastoralism in drylands and rangelands, rotational agriculture and ecological agriculture in tropical forest regions and the conservation, management and restoration of other natural ecosystems such as mangroves, savannahs, wetlands and others.

But Carling says this is not acknowledged or recognised.

Malia Nobrega believes development should not be stopped but should be guided by the traditional knowledge of Indigenous peoples.

"Our ancestors have taken care of Mother Earth for a long time. Now, we should make sure that we can have Mother Earth here for generations to come," she says.

Ecuadorean Johnson Cerda, an advisor to Conservation International's Indigenous and Traditional Peoples Programme, says that when speaking of technology, the developed countries talk only about the transfer of technology from the West to small countries.

"We also have knowledge in our communities. See the forests, do you know how we have been working to keep them for centuries?"

According to him, reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation is something that the Indigenous communities have done for centuries.

"The others are now trying to re-invent it because there is money there," he insists.

"Indigenous peoples have the knowledge for adaptation and mitigation but they don't have access to the funds," Cerda adds.

But Joan Carling is alarmed by the fact that REDD (United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries) is being implemented in certain countries with no consultation and no information given to Indigenous communities, assigning this responsibility to the funders, including the World Bank.

Joseph Ole Simel, executive director of Manyoito Pastoralist Integrated Development Organisation from Kenya, feels the text does not even recognize them as human beings.

"Therefore, we do not enjoy rights," he says, insisting that the Indigenous peoples are in Copenhagen, "because they have a right and because they are experiencing a serious impact on their lives from climate change."

Any negotiation, according to him, must take into account the rights of Indigenous peoples "so that we do not become victims and subjects of mitigation."

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