The Indigenous Platform: A win-win for climate and indigenous rights

climate impactsYesterday I observed a side event that left me feeling anxious about our future. With all the acknowledgment of climate change and the steps taken by parties to the UNFCCC since 1992, greenhouse gas emissions are still rising. In fact, nowhere on the graph presented did the tangent show progress in decreasing emissions. That’s right! After 25 years of learning and negotiating about climate change, it seems we are making little progress with respect to our ultimate goal of reducing global emissions. The implications of this, if gone unabated, could be catastrophic. Indeed, as the atmospheric greenhouse gas concentration now exceeds 400 ppm, we are headed into uncharted territory. Our lives depend on our ability and capacity to adapt to the coming changes as well as to mitigate what we can. Who will show us the way?

It has long been recognized that indigenous knowledge is invaluable for addressing and responding to climate change. For this reason, a platform was established at COP 21 in Paris to afford indigenous people the opportunity to share their traditional knowledge and unique perspective for adapting to, and mitigating climate change. The following year, in Marrakesh, the COP decided to adopt an incremental and participatory approach to developing the indigenous platform. But in the waning hours of COP 23, the COP adopted a decision that includes a formal statement of the purpose for the platform as well as how it will function.

indigenous-potatoes-790x547The purpose of the platform is to “to strengthen the knowledge, technologies, practices and efforts of local communities and indigenous peoples related to addressing and responding to climate change.” The platform will facilitate the exchange and sharing of best practices and lessons learned on mitigation and adaptation and work to enhance the engagement of local communities and indigenous peoples in the UNFCCC process. This is important and exciting! Who knows better the nuances and changes of a particular environment and ecosystem than the people who have relied on them for generations? When it comes to reforestation efforts, it is the indigenous and local communities that understand the seeds to be used, the viability of the soil, and the changes in weather patterns that will determine growth. When it comes to producing food, these people know best what farming techniques will be successful and sustainable, or what practices need to change due to changing weather and hydrological cycles. We can learn so much!

But perhaps the most exciting thing about the platform is what it provides to indigenous peoples and local communities- a seat at the table. The platform is expected to build the capacity of indigenous people and local communities so that they can engage in the UNFCCC process. The platform is also expected to build the capacities of Parties to meet their NDCs under the Paris agreement.

indigenous-peopleWhat does this mean? It sounds like there is finally going to be a collaborative effort between Parties and indigenous people and local communities to address climate change- both in terms of mitigation and adaptation. Speculating as to what co-benefits may flow from this, it seems evident that Parties must now seriously take up the issue of land tenure with respect to the indigenous communities within their respective states. Perhaps indigenous populations will finally gain the security of holding enforceable rights to their traditional, native territories- ensuring the continuation of their culture.
The platform is a win for the climate and indigenous populations.