Demystifying Climate Change Negotiations
By Raymond de Chavez
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Climate change is upon us. It has been manifesting itself for the past several decades all over the world in the form of widespread flooding, incessant drought, disruption of weather patterns, increasing global temperature. In the last 200 years, the world's temperature has increased dramatically. Since 1856 when the global temperature was first measured, temperature had already risen to about .4 to .9 degrees Centigrade. The 1990s has become known as the warmest decade with "1998 probably the warmest year in the millenium."
But while climate change affects us all, awareness is still lacking on the reason for this and more significantly, on the actions or lack of such, to resolve this global phenomenon. For indigenous peoples most specially, there is a need to raise their level of awareness on this important issue. While they are one of the more vulnerable victims of increasing climate change, their intrinsic relationship with Mother Earth being adversely affected, they have not been actively involved in the current processes such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol.
Decisions, specifically pertaining to the Kyoto Protocol, are currently being debated, proposed and drafted in the international level. These seek to address climate change that may impact on indigenous peoples' way of life, particularly their control and access to their resources. But sadly, these decisions are often done without consultations and consent of indigenous peoples themselves.
And why is this so? Is it too late in the day for indigenous peoples all over the world to have a say on how climate change negotiations should take shape? What avenues are open to them in the light of recent developments in these negotiations?
Why the Change?
What, in the first place, causes the climate to change so drastically? Scientists have studied the phenomenon for several years and determined that increased concentrations of certain gases in the atmosphere are the culprit in increasing global temperatures. These gases, often called Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) are composed of carbon, methane and nitrous oxide.
GHGs are natural-occurring gases in the atmosphere and make up "less than one tenth of one percent of the total atmosphere, which consists mostly of oxygen (21 per cent) and nitrogen (78 per cent)." These gases play a vital role in the atmosphere, serving as a sort of "blanket" that prevents heat from escaping from the earth. Without these gases, the earth would be a lot colder by as much as 30 degrees centigrade. The problem arises when this delicate balance is disturbed.
Through several decades of unbridled use of GHG-releasing fuels, most notably carbon-based fuels such as coal and oil, carbon concentrations in the atmosphere have shot up. It is important to note that carbon dioxide emission "alone accounts for about 60% of the warming effect." This has caused this "blanket" to thicken, preventing excess heat from escaping through the earth's atmosphere. This scenario has been likened to that of greenhouses that trap heat so that plants can grow better. But in this case, increased GHG concentrations have become a bane to the earth, trapping even more heat than is normally required. The direct effect is that the earth's temperature will increase to "1 to 3.5 degrees centigrade over the next 100 years."
And an increase of even less than a degree in global temperature already has tremendous impact. The polar ice caps have begun to melt. In the year 2000, tourists and scientists travelling to the North pole reported seeing a 155 kilometer-wide lake 90 degrees North. The New York Times made a comment that the last time this could have been possible was 50 million years ago. This has never occurred in the Pole's history.
Sea levels have also begun to rise, threatening particularly countries in the Pacific such as Solomon Islands, Tuvali and Kiribati. Weather disturbances across the globe have also been increasingly felt, swinging from one extreme to the other. On one hand, heavy rainfall has flooded wide swaths of Mozambique, Indonesia and the United Kingdom in the year 2000, an occurrence, specifically for the last, not seen in 300 years. On the other, less than normal precipitation has disturbed agricultural patterns in several countries, causing crop failures, among others.
The biodiversity of fragile ecosystems, which most indigenous peoples call home, are increasingly threatened. According to Dr. Robert Watson during the Opening Session of the UNFCCC Conference of Parties 6 (COP6) at The Hague in November 2000, during the last decades biological systems had already been affected by change in climatic conditions. These include early flowering of trees as well as "pole-ward shifts in insect ranges."
The table below gives but an overview of threats on indigenous peoples' resources and lands brought about by climate change.
Source: Position Paper of the 1st Indigenous Peoples' Forum on Climate Change
Impacts of Climate Change on Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities
Alaska natives living in communities along the coast of the Northern Bering and Chukchi seas have noticed substantial changes in the oceasn and animals that live there. Such dramatic changes in weather, hunting conditions, ice patterns, and animal populations will create irreversible impacts to Alaskan communities;
In the community of Unalakleet, the ice cap has become so thin that hunting has become a dangerous activity; fish are ill and previouslyunseen insects such as grasshoppers and ants have appeared in the region;
In nations of the Pacific, such as Tuvalu and Kiribati, which mainly comprise low-lying coral atolls, underground freshwater sources are being displaced by sea water as the sea level rises. He land area of many atolls, barely a few meters above sea level, will completely disappear with only a minimal rise in sea level;
The Krui tribal communities in Lampung, Southwest Sumatra, with a combined population of several hundred thousands, which develop and maintain the Repong agroforest based on Shorea javanica are no longer getting any fruit harvest from their Repong
The Dayaks of Kalimantan have notices dramatic decline of their indigenous rice paddy fields over the last seven years down to under 1 ton per hectare, due to the disappearance of order in rainy and dry seasons;
Severe storms and hurricanes in Central America have killed hundreds of people and destroyed villages and livelihoods of Mayas, Garifunas, Nahuals, etc., condemning thousands of already poor indigenous peoples and local communities to hunger, illnesses and poverty;
Changes in El Nino cycle have increased severe weather events in the Andes, producing landslides, floods, etc., with the consequent loss of crops and human lives in indigenous communities of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina;
In the Amazon rainforest, indigenous peoples and local communities have notices the decrease in rain levels and the extension of the dry season. Frequent droughts and the decrease of rain have increased forest fires affecting hunting, fishing, and in general, the providing of food. Loss of biodiversity has increased as it is harder now to find species used for food, medicin and rituals; sicknesses such as malaria have become endemic due to the increase of insect vectors;
In Burkina Fasso, droughts have become more frequent and changes in the rainy season are creating problems with the local agricultural calendar and the food system;
In Rwanda, because of the expansion of the drought period, thirsty insects attack tree species used for food, compromising the already threatened local food security.
A study done by Redefining Progress, a United States-based nongovernment organization, stated that climate change will severely affect not only the health conditions of minority communities but also add increased financial burdens on them. Among the health effects, according to the study, will be an increase in infectious diseases, respiratory illnesses such as asthma and respiratory inflammation, and death due to extreme weather conditions such as heat and extreme cold.
Vulnerability, the study added, is mainly due to the lack of access by minority groups to health care.
Global Response to Global Warming
As early as the 70s, efforts to discuss the changing climatic conditions started to attract international attention. Spearheaded mainly by scientists, several meetings were held by several international organizations such as the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) and the World Meteorological Organizations (WMO).
In a landmark meeting in Geneva in 1979, the first World Climate Conference came to the conclusion that "it was clearly possible that the increase in carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere due to human activities may result in long-term changes of the climate." This statement was significant since for the first time, there was a consensus that a global agreement to tackle this problem was urgently needed.
Subsequent meetings held in the 80s further confirmed the negative effects of climate change, far worse than what was projected. These include rising sea levels, frequent and severe flooding, and damage to water supplies. In 1987, the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), which was also known as the Brundtland Commission, called for more action on the issue.
The first high-level conference, entitled Changing Atmosphere: Implications for Global Security, attended by several heads of governments, scientists, representatives from industry and environmentalists convened in Toronto in 1988. Participants recognized that there was a need to establish a convention to protect the climate. During this meeting, scientists proposed cutting carbon emissions by 20% over 1990 levels. The target was set to 2005.
In November1989, a ministerial conference on atmospheric pollution and climate change was held in The Netherlands. This was a breakthrough of sorts, since this was the first high-level meeting that discussed climate change and recognized the need for common action to control GHG emissions.
Within the UN system, climate change was first discussed by the UN General Assembly in 1988 and recognized as a "common concern of mankind" in a resolution. The UN General Assembly called on the UNEP and WMO to make a study of existing instruments dealing with climate change and to propose elements for inclusion to a proposed convention on climate change. In 1989, it set up a preparatory committee towards the creation of a framework convention on climate change.
It is significant to note that the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) was scheduled for 1992. Preparations for this important conference tackling environment and sustainable development were already being laid down. The issue of climate change was thus given focus in several of the preparatory meetings.
On December 21, 1990, the UN General Assembly set up a body that would be responsible for conducting negotiations for a climate change convention. The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee had to conduct and complete the negotiations before the Rio Summit in 1992. Five sessions were held between February 1991 and April 1992. These sessions were very contentious, drawing diverse positions between the United States and the European Union on one hand, and developing nations on the other. The controversial issues were: who the primary GHG emitters are, specific targets and timetable for reducing GHG emissions, and finance mechanisms to fund climate mitigation. The positioning of blocs and the issues involved were portents of things to come.
UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and Kyoto Protocol
In June 1992, during the Earth Summit, the final text of what later became known as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed by 154 countries. The UNFCCC, as drafted, received heavy fire from NGOs attending the Rio Summit. They viewed the convention as a sell-out for refusing to make firm and bold commitments in reducing GHGs and of bowing to US demands that watered down most of the convention's provisions. Most notable is the silence of the treaty in setting legally-binding quantified commitments in reducing emissions.
By March 21, 1994, the treaty had gone into effect, with a total signatory of 165 states, 140 of whom have ratified the UNFCCC. By September 7, 2000, 186 countries have already ratified. This treaty, being a framework convention, is general in nature, leaving much of the fleshing out to future negotiations in the form of amendments and protocols. Among the general provisions of the convention are:
adoption of the precautionary principle, where lack of scientific data should not prevent signatories to postpone action to mitigate climate change;
recognition of "common but differentiated responsibilities" between industrialized and developing countries;
call on countries to take responsibility in ensuring that activities within their borders do not cause damage to other countries' environment;
call on developed countries to take the lead in climate change mitigation.
The UNFCCC established certain processes and mechanisms in going about its work. The highest body of the convention is the Conference of Parties, composed of representatives of states that have ratified the treaty. It meets annually to oversee the treaty's implementation. It also established several subsidiary bodies such as the subsidiary bodies for scientific and technological advice, and for implementation, to assist the COP.
In 1997, the Third Session of the Conference of Parties came out with the Kyoto Protocol. Essentially, the protocol finally set well-defined targets by which each member-signatory would reduce its target GHG emission within a specified period.
This was a breakthrough, since for the first time the Kyoto Procotol identified industrialized countries as the major source of GHG emissions. Under the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities", these countries are therefore required by the protocol to reduce GHG emissions. Also important was the fact that finally, a timetable was set for reducing these emissions.
Specifically, the protocol set the following emission reduction targets for industrialized countries or Annex 1 countries within an established commitment period, 2008 - 2012. GHG emissions must be reduced by "an average 5% below their 1990 levels".
The catch is, the Kyoto Protocol has to be ratified by "not less than 55 Parties to the Convention incorporating Parties included in Annex 1". As of March 19, 2001, only 33 Parties have ratified the Protocol. Furthermore, it opened a Pandora's box, to say the least. Industrialized or Annex 1 countries refused to ratify the protocol unless certain "flexible mechanisms" (flexmex) were included. These mechanisms are aimed ostensibly to help industrialized countries meet their obligations as stipulated in the protocol.
These mechanism include:
a. emissions trading (KP art. 17);b. joint implementation (KP art.6); andc. implementation of projects in developing countries through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) (KP art.12).
These flexmex involve the trading of so-called carbon credits (through emission trading) which are used to offset an industrialized country's carbon commitment as stipulated in the Kyoto Protocol. These carbon credits can either be "collected" or bought by Annex 1 countries through the implementation of so-called climate change mitigation projects in developing countries (through the Clean Development Mechanism) or in countries belonging to the former Eastern Bloc (through Joint Implementation Mechanism).
Of particular importance is the proposed inclusion of Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry or LULUCF in the whole discussion of bringing down GHG emissions. LULUCF involves activities that have to do with the use of land and forestry as sources of carbon credits. If this proposal is included, this means that industrialized countries can use reforestation activities, existing forests and the setting up of plantations as carbon "sinks".
The use of "sinks" has been widely lobbied for by the umbrella group composed of the United States, Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand as a viable alternative to offsetting GHG emissions. Even some developing countries have expressed support for "sinks", since these projects would mean millions of dollars worth of investment for their cash-strapped economies.
What these "sinks" are supposed to do is to absorb carbon from the atmosphere, thereby offsetting whatever carbon is released from other parts of the land. This is good from a theoretical point of view. But the use of "sinks" is fraught with flaws. For one, there is still no scientifically accepted process of measuring the quantity of absorbed carbon. Secondly, these "sinks" are vulnerable to forest fires which would eventually release the stored carbon, and even decaying matter in these "sinks" would release carbon anyway. Third is the question of leakage. There is no guarantee that the amount of absorbed carbon by "sinks" would not "leak" through other activities, such as logging or even soil preparation for planting.
The Kyoto Protocol proposes other issues, such as adaptation, complementarity, capacity-building and other climatespeak that would boggle people not in the know. What seems to be in danger of being left out in all these legalese is that bringing down GHG emissions must be done at source and by those who, in the first place, are the highest emitters of these gases. All talks of mechanisms that will help industrialized countries to meet their commitments must be secondary to cutting these countries' dependence on carbon fossil fuels and investing in low-impact, renewable sources of energy.
Indigenous Peoples' Issues and Concerns
In a landmark declaration on climate change , indigenous peoples from different parts of the world declared:
We, the Indigenous Peoples, have historically played an active role in the conservation of eco-systems crucial to the prevention of climate change such as forests, wetlands and coastal and marine areas. Long ago, our sciences foretold of the severe impacts on Western "development" models based on indiscriminate clear-cutting, oil exploration, mining, carbon-emitting industries, permanent organic pollutants and the insatiable consumption of the industrialized countries. Today, these unsustainable models threaten the very life of Mother Earth and the lives of all of us who are her children. …(T)he land is a sacred space that the Creator entrusts to our Peoples, hence, our responsibility to care for it. The land is where we and our ancestors live, where our spirits dwell, where our legends are born and our history created. This is the space that ensures our physical and cultural existence and from where we obtain our food and medicines, where we nurture our languages, where we celebrate our ceremonies, where we give birth…We live from, on, in, by and for our lands. The land is sacred.
It is this intrinsic relationship with nature that impels indigenous peoples to involve themselves in issues affecting climate change. Indigenous peoples live in the most fragile and diverse ecosystems found on the earth. These ecosystems include forests, wetlands, coastal and marine areas that are most susceptible to any climatic change.
While the processes currently taking place in the international arena, in the United Nations and in the UNFCCC may seem remote to people on the ground, the truth is, the effects wrought on their environment are real and concrete. These include the disruption of agricultural cycles and the culture and traditions that are inherent in these traditional practices, marginalization as a result of increasing poverty, increased health risks, loss of biodiversity. And the way the flexible mechanisms are envisioned, in the guise of climate change mitigation, the very control over their lands and resources come under threat.
It is for this reason that indigenous peoples must be able to understand the dynamics and the issues involved in the ongoing and even future negotiations of the climate change convention. This paper enumerates three important issues and concerns for indigenous peoples.
The issue of participation is two-pronged: indigenous peoples' participation in the processes of the UNFCCC on one hand, and on the other, the participation of a broad number of indigenous peoples' organizations and communities in the issue of climate change itself.
In the past COP and subsidiary bodies meetings of the UNFCCC, indigenous peoples had very minimal participation. This may be largely due to the fact that most of indigenous peoples' organizations were focused on biodiversity, on trade, and lobbying for the passage of the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and on the Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues.
Also, there was a perception that the climate change negotiations have not substantially been moving forward. While some indigenous peoples' groups, notably from the Amazon Basin, attended some of the meetings, the participation was not broad enough and did not involve indigenous peoples from other parts of the globe.
By the year 2000, an urgent call for active and involved participation in the climate change negotiations was made in time for the 13th UNFCCC Subsidiary Bodies Session in Lyon, France. Urgent matters that needed the analysis and position of indigenous peoples involved the issues of the flexible mechanisms and the proposed inclusion of carbon sinks to offset industrialized countries' commitments in reducing GHG emissions.
On September 4-6, 2000, thirteen representatives of indigenous peoples and local communities from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Pacific met for the first time. This became known as the 1st Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change. The Forum studied and analyzed the framework convention and zeroed in on the Kyoto Protocol and the controversial proposals including the flexible mechanism (CDM, JI and emissions trading) and LULUCF proposals including the use of carbon "sinks".
What was supposed to take just two days spilled over to six days of discussions and debates among the participants. What came out from these deliberations were two landmark documents, the Declaration of the First International Forum of Indigenous Peoples on Climate Change and the more extensive Position Paper of the First International Forum of Indigenous Peoples on Climate Change. These papers laid down the intrinsic relationship of indigenous peoples with nature; analyzed the processes of the UNFCCC; and stated the position of indigenous peoples on the issues of participation, the CDM and JI and carbon "sinks".
Concretely, the first forum called on the Conference of Parties 6 to:
1. recognize the role of indigenous peoples in climate change prevention and to accredit indigenous peoples with special status in all organs, activities and COPs of the UNFCCC;2. approve the creation of a Working Group of Indigenous Peoples on Climate Change and provide necessary support for full and effective participation in all levels of discussions, decision-making and implementation;3. establish relations with other processes that affect indigenous peoples such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, the proposed Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, among others.
Armed with the declaration and position papers, the forum then proceeded to make its presence felt in the subsidiary bodies meetings. It requested meetings with different government delegations such as Canada, Germany and several Latin American countries. It also held meetings with the different Chairs of the Subsidiary Bodies such as those of Implementation and Mechanism.
Together with other nongovernmental organizations, the forum met with the President of COP6, Minister Jan Pronk of the Netherlands. This writer represented the forum and presented its position, specifically calling for participation of indigenous peoples in the process of the convention. Minister Pronk welcomed the presence of indigenous peoples in the convention and stated that it was indeed important for indigenous peoples, being one of the most affected, to be heard in the UNFCCC.
The remaining days of the session was a whirlwind of lobbying and networking activities for indigenous peoples. Significant inroads were made in making their presence felt both by government delegations and bodies within the convention. However, the forum was unable to propose text insertions. This was because of inadequate time for brainstorming on the content and form of proposed insertions.
By November 11, 2000, more indigenous peoples from regions not represented in the first forum gathered for COP6 at The Hague. The 2nd International Indigenous Forum on Climate Change was attended by thirty-three indigenous peoples' representatives from 22 regions. The 2nd Forum further discussed the issues up for negotiations in COP6, the position paper and declaration of the 1st Forum and strategized on how best to push forward the indigenous peoples' agenda.
The Hague Declaration of the 2nd International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change reiterated the Lyon declarations and its position vis-à-vis carbon sinks, the CDM and other flexible mechanisms and the call for participation of indigenous peoples through the creation of a Working Group on Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change.
The delegates again conducted intense lobby work, meeting with different government ministers, ambassadors, chairs of the different subsidiary bodies chair and President Pronk. Building on the spaces opened in Lyon, indigenous peoples gave two interventions in the LULUCF and in the Joint Plenary Session.
In the end, talks in the COP6 bogged down. The European Union, specifically the United Kingdom, which was by then affected by its worst flooding in centuries, led the call for compliance with cutting emissions at source rather than through the use of flexible mechanisms. This ran counter to the US position of maximizing flexmex to bring down its emission levels.
These developments, analyses and prospects on issues involving climate change need to be brought down to where it matters most - in indigenous peoples' communities and organizations. It is important that community-level discussions on climate change be initiated. Popularization of the issues is crucial to gather support for actions done by indigenous peoples at the UNFCCC level. More importantly, there is a need to constantly give flesh to lobby efforts by linking these to concrete indigenous peoples' experiences on how climatic conditions have affected and continue to affect their lives. Only then can the full meaning of indigenous peoples' participation on climate within and without the UNFCCC process be realized.
2. LULUCF and Carbon "sinks"
One of the more controversial and potentially threatening issues for indigenous peoples is the proposal on Land Use, Land Use Change, and Forestry in the Kyoto Protocol.n Any activity that involves using land and forests gives off carbon. In fact, it had been estimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that in the past 150 years, around one-third of GHG emissions came from activities that have to do with land use and forestry. These include even the tilling and clearing of land for agricultural production, reforestation and burning of forests, and even decaying matter in the forests.
On the other hand, there are potential uses in these resources that proponents say can take back released carbon from the atmosphere. Cited as activities that can do this are reforestation and afforestation. The use of carbon "sinks" therefore comes into the picture. Since plants absorb carbon dioxide, then forests have a role in lowering carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere. By logic, even plantations then, when reproduced in massive scales, may bring down carbon concentrations.
The carbon sequestration potentials of such LULUCF projects are behind the idea of why LULUCF are proposed in the Kyoto Protocol. To cite an example, when an Annex 1 country (for example, the United States) invests in LULUCF projects under the CDM mechanism, say plantation in a developing country such as the Philippines, it gets carbon credits which it can then use to offset its commitments under the protocol. Carbon credits derived from these projects are way cheaper than for industrialized countries to invest in new technologies such as renewable energy. LULUCF activities can therefore be described as "credits at bargain prices".
And when we talk of forests and land, then these have implications on indigenous peoples. Under the proposal, forests and land are now given a new dimension - as sources of carbon credits that can be traded between countries. This very notion goes against the grain of what land and forests are for indigenous peoples:
We … have lived in forests since time immemorial. We are the first stewards of the forest. During all of history, we have nourished her biodiversity through our skillls and practices, a wide variety of knowledge, and a holisitc understanding of our environment. We do not see human beings and other flora and fauna as distinct elements for classification and use. We are part of a wide system that unifies us with the forest through social, cultural, political, economic and ecological links, all expressed through our indigenous spirituality.
Forests and indigenous peoples' lands will be opened again to a new variety of exploitation and expropriation, now under the new banner of climate protection. Governments may declare these lands as protected areas, and indigenous peoples have had very tragic experiences with protected areas. Foreign investors or project holders may also be given licenses over huge tracts of indigenous lands. Indigenous peoples may then lose their lands, or be cut off from access and control over their resources covered by these declared areas. Activities, such as wood gathering and swidden agriculture, may be perceived as threats to carbon sequestration and be banned. Even the conduct of ceremonies and other indigenous practices closely linked to agricultural activities may be curtailed.
Also, biodiversity of these forests and lands may be compromised. With the entry of millions of dollars of climate mitigation projects, some governments may clear tracts of lands and forests in putting up plantations. These plantations are often monocultures, such as eucalyptus, that are easy to grow and cheaper to maintain.
Several carbon "sink" plantation projects have already been proposed or are ongoing in indigenous peoples' lands. In Uganda, 8,000 people from 13 villages have already been evicted due to a carbon sequestration plantation sponsored by Tree Farms, a Norwegian company. For these farmers to access their lands, they even have to pay a certain fee. In Chiapas, Mexico, in lands owned by Mayas, the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile has proposed planting 30,000 trees to offset carbon emission by Formula One car racing.
It is for these growing threats to control of indigenous lands, forests and resources that compelled the Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change to declare:
Our intrinsic relation with Mother Earth obliges us to oppose the inclusion of sinks…because it reduces our sacred land and territories to mere carbon sequestration which is contrary to our cosmovision and philosophy of life. Sinks…would constitute a worldwide startegy of expropriating our lands and territories and violating our fundamental rights that would culminate in a new form of colonialism. Sinks in the CDM would not help reduce GHG emissions, rather it would provide industrialized countries with a ploy to avoid reducing their emission at source.
3. Clean Development Mechanism and Other Flexible Mechanisms
In September 2000, indigenous peoples made known their position on the Clean Development Mechanism and on the other flexmex:
The CDM is being touted as a means by which developing countries can achieve sustainable development, but is silent on the grossly unsustainable production and consumption patterns of Annex I countries. Clearly, the primary responsibility for cutting emissions of GHG lies with these countries…We view with profound concern steps towards the development of a carbon market. We oppose moves to further broaden the scope of globalization to include this carbon market…, this would further intensify the exploitation and loss of our lands and resources under the guise of climate change mitigation.
Indigenous peoples have stated that the fundamental causes of climate change can be found in unsustainable and wasteful production and consumption patterns dominant in the West. Too much emphasis on the accumulation of material goods, on the exploitation of natural resources, and on wasteful energy use that is mainly dependent in burning tons of fossil-based coal and oil has led to changes in the environment and in the climate. Those that pollute the atmosphere must therefore bear the primary responsibility of cutting down GHG emissions in their own countries.
The CDM and the other flexible mechanisms have the potential of letting these industrialized countries skirt their responsibility of cutting down these emissions. Since these mechanisms which, in the first place, have nothing to do with addressing unsustainable practices in the West, provide a cheap way out of their commitments in the Kyoto Protocol, it will be "business as usual" for these countries. The CDM and the flexible mechanisms are actually a license to pollute.
Challenge to Indigenous Peoples
Climate change is too serious to be left in politicians' hands alone. The way current negotiations are being deliberated, proposed and decided upon, there is a danger that the real issues will be buried under proposals that obfuscate, rather than clarify, the need for drastic solutions. These are the issues of unsustainable patterns of development and consumption of industrialized countries, of the use of carbon-emitting fossil fuels, of making sure that these industrialized countries who continue to pollute the air take responsibility for cleaning the atmosphere.
Indigenous peoples cannot but be involved in climate change. They are already feeling the effects of global warming through disruption of agricultural cycles, destruction of resources and loss of biodiversity, and increasing health risks.
Indigenous peoples have already made significant inroads in terms of active participation within the UNFCCC processes. They have initiated lobby work and made interventions. While it is true that indigenous peoples have not yet achieved official participation, the call for an Indigenous Working Group on Climate Change within the UNFCCC has already been put forward. They have registered and campaigned for the indigenous peoples' stand on issues such as the flexible mechanisms and carbon "sinks", among others.
A broader number of indigenous representatives have also attended the two forums in the COP6 and 13th Subsidiary Bodies Sessions in September and November 2000. Plans are being made to continue with sustained participation within and without the UNFCCC processes, as it should be. The call for involvement of indigenous peoples in the communities cannot be overemphasized. Education and active campaigns should be undertaken to ensure that more and more indigenous peoples are aware of the impacts of climate change and on the many proposals that are purportedly aimed to mitigate these. These include proposed CDM projects involving carbon "sinks", and how these will affect their lives and possibly threaten their control over their land and resources.
While the effects of climate change are already upon us, it is never too late for indigenous peoples to act. In fact, indigenous peoples' intrinsic relationship with Mother Earth impels them to do so.