The entire way of life of Arctic indigenous communities will be drastically altered without aggressive action on climate change.

© Robert Comeau/Youth Arctic Coalition

12/10/2015 5:51:33 PM

Indigenous Rights at COP21

By Robert Comeau 

As we enter into the final stages of negotiations at the climate talks in Paris, sessions are reaching into the early hours of the morning and starting up again only a few hours later.

This is a time when world leaders need to put national interests aside and come to a compromise to ensure a comprehensive agreement—one ambitious enough to bring emissions down to pre-industrial levels.

The primary narrative at this point is to halt the warming to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. However, this is a global average: 2 degrees for the world would be closer to 7 or 8 degrees in the Arctic.

The implications of this are unacceptable to those of us who live in the Arctic. Entire communities would have to be relocated, traditional methods of acquiring food would disappear, and the entire way of life of Arctic indigenous communities would be drastically altered. The rights of indigenous peoples are embedded in international agreements such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of 2007, so they should also be present in the Paris Accord.

The draft document is subject to continuous changes due to influences from the inside and the outside. At this point in the negotiations, it is crucial to acknowledge the work being done by not only the negotiators, but also by civil society and the media. These partnerships and synergies present a viable option to effectively lobby countries and negotiators.

For example, the Indigenous Peoples Caucus (IPs Caucus) meets every morning to bring all indigenous stakeholders onto the same page and ensure that we do not become marginalized in these deliberations. Peoples from South America are lobbying representatives from their countries, just as peoples from all over North America, the Pacific, and other parts of the world are mobilizing to ensure the rights of indigenous peoples are entrenched in the final text.

This caucus has also facilitated a number of ACTIONs—demonstrations inside of the Blue Zone of COP21, where only accredited individuals can enter. On the 9th of November, the IPs Caucus hosted an ACTION where we were able to garner attention from the general public through chants and songs on the need to include indigenous rights in Article 2.2 of the final Paris agreement.

Indigenous rights are briefly mentioned in the Preamble of the draft text released on December the 9th, but this is not enough. The Preamble is purely aspirational and is not legally binding. Recognizing, respecting, and protecting indigenous rights need to be present in the operative text to ensure that those the most affected by climate change—indigenous communities—are protected.

Developed countries are worried about the liability that comes with this entrenchment and the possible financial obligations that come from these liabilities. It is interesting to note that indigenous knowledge is recognized in the operative text in Article 4, which is focused on adaptation. The draft text points to integrating indigenous people's knowledge into the relevant socioeconomic and environmental policies and actions when talking about mitigation of changes to our climate. 

Inuit have been able to adapt to their environment since time immemorial and will no doubt do the same, even with the changes we are seeing in our communities. It is no longer a question of if we are going to see changes and whether we will be able to adapt to them, but whether Arctic indigenous communities will be recognized and empowered through the operative text in the Paris Accord.

COP21 has been an amazing experience for many people, including indigenous peoples from the Arctic, and is a source of hope for many. The Arctic is home to polar bears, sea ice, and humans. Here in Paris, there is a certain optimism that the international community will commit to protecting some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world—allowing us to #PassDownTheArctic to future generations.

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