World Social Forum - Porto Alegre, Brazil, 25-30 January, 2001

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RIGHTS-ENVIRONMENT: Indigenous Peoples Strive To Influence Global Climate Talks

By Jaya Ramachandran

LYON, France (IPS) - In a bid to influence the course of global climate talks, a newly established grouping of indigenous peoples, has criticised the industrialised countries for making "a farce" of the negotiations underway in Lyon, France.
Called the Forum of Indigenous Peoples and other Local Communities on Climate Change, the group is seeking ways to formalise its participation in climate change negotiations so that the interests of indigenous peoples are urgently addressed.

Indigenous peoples, who dwell on the earth's last remaining forests, and other critical habitats, fear dispossession.

"Developed country proposals to buy the right to continue polluting the atmosphere by planting more trees makes a farce of the climate change negotiations," Hector Huertas, an indigenous leader from Panama, speaking on behalf of the Forum, said Wednesday.

Clark Peteru from Somona warned: "Not only are indigenous peoples on small island states on the brink of losing their lands to sea level rise, but indigenous peoples throughout the world, particularly forest-dwellers, are in danger of losing their lands and livelihoods to proposals to plant thousands of hectares of trees to act as gigantic carbon sponges.''

Mature forests will be cut down to make way for more rapid growing tree species and agricultural land will be transformed into tree plantations, Peteru told reporters.

''The proposal stinks, it gives the impression of doing something when the net effect is to make the problem worse,'' added Raymond de Chavez of the Philippines.

It allows industrial countries to continue polluting the atmosphere, and throws the social cost on marginalised populations, explained Chavez.

It also establishes a market in carbon emissions which will benefit only developed countries. ''Profits will be made even as countries disappear under water or entire populations lose their lands. It's obscene,'' Chavez said.

"What is needed is a fundamental change in philosophy regarding our relationship to the earth. Only then will developed countries get serious and honour their pledges, already quite small, to reduce their carbon emissions rather than fiddle as the earth burns," concluded Antonio Jacanamijoy of Colombia.

The warnings came as multilateral negotiations, to agree on steps to prevent and combat the negative effects of climate change, entered a crucial phase at the intergovernmental preparatory meeting underway in Lyon until Friday.

These preparatory negotiations will set the stage for decisions at the sixth conference of parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) - COP6 - to be held in The Hague, the Netherlands, Nov 13 to 24.

The objective of the current work, according to the Bonn-based UNFCCC, is to reach an agreement that will trigger the ratifications necessary for the Kyoto Protocol to come into force.

The Kyoto Protocol, agreed 1997 in Japan, will enter into force 90 days after it has been ratified by at least 55 Parties to the Convention, including developed countries and those with economies in transition representing at least 55 percent of the total of 1990 carbon dioxide emissions from this group.

The Lyon meetings are taking place a few days after Heads of State and Government expressed their resolve, on Sep 8 in the UN Millennium Declaration, to make every effort to ensure the Protocol enters into force, preferably by the year 2002.

The meetings have brought together more than 2000 participants. They include senior government officials from some 160 countries, as well as representatives from non-governmental organisations, intergovernmental organisations and from the private sector.

In a statement this week, the UNFCCC secretariat said, the participation in the meeting last Monday of the Prime Minister of France, Lionel Jospin, the French environment minister, Dominique Voynet, the Dutch environment minister, Jan Pronk (and President- designate for COP 6), the EU Commissioner for Environment, Margot Wallstroem, as well as the Mayor of Lyon, Raymond Barre, had transformed a round of preparatory meetings into a political event.

In opening the week, Jan Szyszko - State Secretary from Poland and President of the fifth Conference of the Parties of the Climate Change Convention held last year in Bonn - announced that the informal talks over the previous week had produced ''new and improved negotiating texts''.

But it was essential that the negotiations be intensified as time was short and many, often difficult issues, remained.

French prime minister, Jospin, expressed the firm commitment of France - currently holding the presidency of the European Union - to work towards the early ratification of the Kyoto Protocol.

France has adopted a comprehensive national programme aimed at boosting the development of renewable energies, and in July, adopted the necessary legislation authorising the government to ratify the Protocol.

According to the UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Michael Zammit Cutajar, the Lyon meeting offers "an opportunity to conclude initial agreements that will build confidence in political success at COP 6".

Such success requires "tangible support for developing countries' capacities to respond to climate change, recognition of their diverse forms of vulnerability and incentives to shift their economic growth on to climate-friendly paths" and "a decisive push towards the early realisation of the Kyoto Protocol - with all major industrialised economies on board".

The Lyon meeting consists of the first part of the thirteenth sessions of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and are chaired by John Ashe (Antigua and Barbuda) and Harald Dovland (Norway) respectively.

So far, 83 governments and the European Community have signed the Protocol but only 23 countries, all developing, have ratified. The United States accounts for 36.1 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, the European Union for 24.2 percent, and Russia for 17.4 percent. (END/IPS/jrc/sm/00)


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