Climate Change, Global

Determination, despair, and desire: Indigenous activism at Cop26

From Sami environmentalists at the Venice Biennale to Europe’s largest network, Climate Alliance, cooperating with Amazonian groups, Indigenous interests have never been more integrated into the international fight against climate change. Right?

After all, at COP21 196 parties signed a 2015 Paris climate agreement that recognised the rights of indigenous peoples and the integration of indigenous knowledge into policies and actions-page 24, article 7, paragraph 5.

Yet last week, across the Clyde from the COP26 conference, a gathering of Indigenous delegates commemorated the deaths of fellow activists. As nation leaders planned and pledged, the commemoration across the river painted a different picture of Indigenous environmentalism’s alienation and persecution… in spite of plans and pledges.

The NGO Global Witness reported that four land defenders had been killed every week since the Paris accord, with one in three of the victims being Indigenous. Last year alone, Indigenous communities suffered five mass killings related to land disputes. On the Philippine Island of Panay, nine Tumandok opposed to the building of a dam were killed in Military and police raids. The Philippines government signed the 2015 climate agreement.

The Global Witness’s report also cited “resource exploitation” as the cause for at least 30% of killings last year, the same business that is being given a disproportionate ear at COP26 . In the UN’s provisional list of attendees, at least 503 fossil fuel lobbyists are present. Double that of people in the official UN constituency for Indigenous people.

Beyond the perilous frontlines of Indigenous activism, on the concrete of Glasgow, it is perhaps of no surprise then that Indigenous delegates like Ita Mendoza express disillusion. The member of Mexican collective Futuros Indígenas told the Guardian: “The COP is a big business, […] where people come not to listen to us, but to make money from our land and natural resources.”

With $1.7bn of funding for Indigenous protection of land already being announced on the 1st of November, many others continue to see in the Conference of the Parties (COP) an opportunity to gain the advantage in a too often fatal fight.

Speaking to the UN news, former UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights Victoria Tauli-Corpuz noted the efforts towards influencing article 6 of the Paris agreement, concerning market cooperation: “The push is to really say that we cannot have market-based mechanisms if they violate indigenous people’s rights”.

For now, a desire for change cautiously continues through the channels of COP26.

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Hamish Davis

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November 2021
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