As indigenous leaders from around the world join representatives from national governments and other stakeholders at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meetings in Copenhagen, it is hoped that their influence on international negotiations will continue to grow. Conservation International (CI) is working to strengthen the effectiveness of indigenous representatives and nonprofits alike through the sharing of ideas and information in forums such as the Indigenous Advisory Group (IAG), which held its first meeting at CI’s headquarters last month.
The Indigenous Advisory Group
The IAG was created to provide a forum for indigenous experts to give advice and feedback on the climate change strategies of nonprofits like CI, and to share their own positions and strategies for influencing global and national policies on climate change mitigation and adaptation.
This collaboration between indigenous groups and nonprofits is part of a larger initiative to build an international consensus on fair and equitable sharing of benefits for the UN’s proposed mechanism known as REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation “plus” conservation).
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The five-day meeting brought together indigenous leaders from groups in Brazil, Panama, Guyana, Guatemala, Kenya and Indonesia, as well as representatives from organizations such as the United Nations, the World Bank, the Indian Law Resource Center, the Center for International Environmental Law and the Rights and Resources Initiative.
Across the Globe, Common Problems
As the meeting’s participants stood up to share their stories (some through the use of translators), it became clear that despite geographic differences, the speakers share many of the same daily struggles in their traditional lands and territories.
One of the major climate change-related factors that has affected indigenous communities is the desertification of important agricultural land.
Kanyinke Sena of Kenya, who is a member of the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee, explained that deteriorating grasslands are requiring herders to migrate much greater distances in search of pasture for their animals. Ramiro Batzin, president of Guatemalan indigenous organization Sotz’il, reported that drought and desertification have led to record low yields, with ears of corn no more than five centimeters (shorter than two inches) long. This disappointing harvest is threatening food security for many Guatemalans.
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In addition, several speakers discussed how the remoteness of many indigenous communities poses a challenge to climate change education. Rural communities often lack infrastructure and modern conveniences like internet connections. This inaccessibility has historically left indigenous groups in the dark about climate change and the national governments’ strategies to mitigate it. Sena asserts that “if the meteorological data is made available, people will know how to adapt and how to handle [climate change effects].”
Loss of traditional culture was also a major concern for all meeting attendees. The participants explained that if environmental conditions don’t improve, their peoples will be forced to abandon their traditional ways of life altogether. Mina Susana Setra of Indonesia’s Indigenous Peoples' Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) worried that the promotion of alternative livelihoods, such as agroforestry, might be damaging to indigenous livelihoods like rice farming. “Once the culture is impacted, indigenous communities become no different than everyone else.”
Strengthening Indigenous Representation
There are undoubtedly many challenges facing indigenous peoples around the world, yet meetings such as the IAG allow indigenous experts to share experiences and work together in pursuit of common goals. With support from CI and other organizations, these peoples are more likely to be heard at important international negotiations like Copenhagen.
Thanks to initial funding from the Norwegian government, IAG will meet again in early 2010, with plans underway for continued meetings over the next several years. These meetings will continue to foster important discussion and collaboration between indigenous peoples and conservation organizations in the search for common solutions to the effects of climate change.
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