Amazonian Leaders Promote Vision for "Living Forests" at the Climate Change Conference

Photo credit: Amazon Watch

On November 6-17, 2017, a delegation of Indigenous Kichwa leaders from the community of Sarayaku, deep in Ecuadorian Amazon, accompanied by Amazon Watch, traveled to the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, Germany, to promote their Kawsak Sacha ("Living Forest") proposal – a comprehensive vision for living in harmony with the natural world based upon their ancestral practices.

The Kawsak Sacha "Living Forests" vision is vital for many reasons, most fundamentally that maintaining the ecological balance of the Amazon is essential to Earth's health and capacity to mitigate climate change. The Amazon has long played the critical role of sequestering carbon but rapidly on its way to losing this sink function and become a carbon source due to deforestation. Consequently, protecting the Amazon rainforest, the largest of the world's tropical forests, must be central to climate change discussions and policies.

"My message here at COP 23 for the people, for allies of the world, is that we need to fight together, unite forces, because the states that are here speaking in our name are at a negotiating table where supposedly they are looking for solutions, but these solutions are for them, not for Indigenous peoples. Our people are in our communities, while they are here making decisions for us. They are putting prices on our natural resources, they are putting prices on us, without fully comprehending that within our territories we exist as communities with huge wisdom, knowledge, science, technology. So we are asking allied peoples to keep resisting, because this fight is how we must maintain life, and to have the freedom to express ourselves, " said Mirian Cisneros, president of Sarayaku.

The Kichwa from Sarayaku are gaining ground in alliance with Indigenous and frontline communities around the world working to defend the sacred and keep oil in the ground, including a strong bond with indigenous peoples of the Standing Rock community. As Franco Viteri, a historic Kichwa leader remarked during his visit to Standing Rock in September 2016, "My people are very conscious, because of our history and our tradition, just like the tribes here, of our connection with nature, with Mother Earth; we know that this is what gives balance to life here on earth. The transnational corporations, like those trying to build this oil pipeline, are blind because they don't understand the language of nature.”

Two years after COP 21 in Paris, elected leaders around the globe have proven their unwillingness to take the bold, urgent action needed to respond to the climate chaos beginning to wreak havoc on the planet. At COP23 Indigenous peoples continue to actively advocate their positions largely outside of the formal meetings they have limited access to. The Kichwa delegation took part in a range of actions to deliver their message – the Climate March, the Rights of Nature Tribunal – and multiple press opportunities, highlighting their truly sustainable solutions for advancing climate justice.

Inside the negotiations, the Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC) – the Indigenous representative body focused directly on impacting the COP – realized what they consider a small victory in regards to the operalization of the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform created at COP21 in Paris. This Platform was designed to create a space where they can exchange lessons learned and share their unique perspectives on reducing emissions, adapting, and building resilience. During the course of the two weeks the Parties at COP23 debated how much decision-making power they could concede to these nonparty "stakeholders.” In the final decision, a shared chairmanship by state and local communities and Indigenous Peoples' representatives was agreed to. While Indigenous Peoples clearly consider themselves rights holders (not stakeholders) in the UNFCCC negotiations the hope of the IIPFCC is that they - on the frontlines climate change - can increase their role in these intergovernmental talks and contribute to deciding their own future via mechanisms such as the Platform.

When Patricia Gualinga, a former Kichwa leader represented the global climate justice movement at the High-Level Segment at COP23 her impassioned speech contrasted sharply to those by heads of governments, reminding everyone that "Climate change is not a business.... We, the grassroots communities and Indigenous Peoples of the world, we have the real solutions. From the people of Sarayaku to Standing Rock, from the Ogoniland to Lancashire to the Ende Gelände movement here in Germany - we are all fighting against destruction and for a decent life. We are fighting for Climate Justice! ...Our struggle is for life, for justice, for Mother Earth. For women, youth, our children and their children. For our future!”

For the world to stay within the rise in temperatures per the Paris Climate Agreement, new fossil fuel production must be halted. Potential carbon emissions from the oil, gas, and coal present in the worlds currently operating fields and mines would take us beyond 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius of warming as per that agreement.

"Considering that global climate chaos is here and global experts are warning that three-quarters of the world's fossil fuels must be kept in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change, protecting the Amazon is a greater priority than ever. We stand with Indigenous peoples and allies to stop Amazon destruction, advance Indigenous solutions, and support climate justice," said Leila Salazar-López, Executive Director of Amazon Watch.

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