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Indigenous Peoples Raise Their Voice

Posted on 10 December 2009 by editor

Indigenous participants. Credit: Ana Libisch/IPS.

Indigenous participants. Credit: Ana Libisch/IPS.

By Nasseem Ackburally

COPENHAGEN (IPS/TerraViva) 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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Latin American Women Want Change in Trade Rules

Posted on 09 December 2009 by editor

Guatemalan indigenous girls. Credit: Danilo Valladares/IPS

Guatemalan indigenous girls. Credit: Danilo Valladares/IPS


Daniela Estrada

COPENHAGEN (IPS/TerraViva) – “We don’t need to change the climate, we need to change trade,” said Brazilian activist Marta Lago at Klimaforum, the civil society meeting held in parallel with the climate change summit in the Danish capital.

Lago and Norma Maldonado from Guatemala, who belong to the International Gender and Trade Network (IGTN), criticised the free trade treaties signed by Latin American countries with the United States and the European Union in a panel Tuesday.

They said free trade agreements accentuate poverty and the loss of biodiversity, as a result of megaprojects for the extraction of natural resources which use water intensively, spew out pollution, and exacerbate the effects of climate change.

Examples are mining projects, construction of large hydroelectric dams, and plantations of monoculture crops and genetically modified (GM) organisms.

Free trade deals include strict regulation of intellectual property rights for patented GM seeds, which harms small farmers, creating food insecurity in poor communities that already suffer from harvest variability because of global warming.

“Where there is biodiversity, where there is wealth, where there is culture, that’s where corporate interests flock,” Maldonado, deputy head of Ecumenical Services for Christian Development in Central America (SEFCA), an organisation working with women and young people for community development and political effectiveness, told TerraViva.

SEFCA’s work covers a wide range of issues, focusing on the recovery of traditional farming practices, the carving out of local markets for products, the improvement of the diets of people in rural communities and the provision of training for international trade negotiations.

“The trade treaties give (foreign countries) a legal claim to plunder our natural resources. We cannot separate the trade treaties from their everyday effects: the privatisation of water; the loss of land; the mining companies that use 250,000 gallons of water a minute for free, while polluting our rivers,” she said.

“Guatemala was the birthplace of many food crops, and yet its people are undernourished. Children are dying of hunger. How can we have a country that produces food, but all of it for export, to sell to the great international markets?” she demanded.

In her view, the EU “gives with one hand,” through development aid, “and takes away with the other,” by means of its trade treaties.

In Guatemala, SEFCA works with Q’eqchi’ indigenous communities that are recovering degraded coffee plantations.

Women bear the brunt of climate change effects, Lago and Maldonado said, as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) stated in its latest report.

SEFCA is making a documentary to raise awareness on the water crisis, which includes footage, screened at Klimaforum, showing rural women who spend four hours a day fetching water from streams around their communities.

According to Maldonado, “the problem of water has been, and will continue to be,” a women’s issue, “for cultural reasons,” because they are the ones who do most of the cooking, bathing of children and washing of clothes in their homes.

“Lack of access to water adds to women’s burden,” already a heavy one, she said.

“Women take four hours to fetch two gallons of water at a time, and then we want them to further their education and participate in community affairs. What time do they have for this?” she asked.

How much do Guatemalan women supported by SEFCA know about climate change? According to Maldonado, they are unaware of factors like greenhouse gas emissions and other scientific aspects. “Actually, I don’t understand them very well myself, yet,” she admitted.
“What we are very well aware of is that there are constant landslides and floods, while we women can’t even swim, that the weather is getting hotter all the time, that the rhythm of the crops is altered – sometimes the coffee is ripe in January and previously it was in October – and the cycles and agricultural calendars are upset, and we don’t have enough water,” said the activist.

“We may not know what a carbon sink is, but we do know that our land is being taken from us,” said Maldonado, who said she has been threatened and intimidated for her opposition to free trade agreements in Guatemala.

“A wave of repression swept the country when the first free trade treaty between Guatemala and the United States was signed. Since then there has been systematic persecution of the leadership and raids on organisations (opposed to the trade accords). They searched my house, injured two colleagues, took our computers: we are on their blacklist,” she complained.

Maldonado is in Copenhagen, but she said she “expects nothing” from the Dec. 7-18 15th Conference of the Parties (COP 15) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, attended by delegates from 192 countries and 3,500 journalists. She says she is putting her faith in the alliances that emerge from Klimaforum, where the keynote is scepticism of the current development model.

This huge alternative meeting is being held in a multi-purpose centre in the Danish capital that includes a conference centre and is 15 minutes by train from the Bella Centre, the venue for COP 15.

The Klimaforum programme lists 150 panels and talks, 50 exhibitions and 30 artistic events, including documentaries, theatre and music, which will continue until Dec. 18.

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