Between 7-18 November 2016, representatives from 191 countries gathered in Marrakech for the COP 22 climate change conference. This came at the same time as Donald Trump’s US election victory, a renowned sceptic when it comes to global warming, and whose policies include pulling out of existing global cooperation on climate change. At the Paris Convention, world leaders demonstrated their commitment to combatting climate change. The aim of COP 22 was to move beyond commitment and formulate a detailed plan of action of how objectives are to be met, and to agree on the steps that need to be taken.
Hot topics on the agenda included how to finance the cutting of emissions and how to empower developing countries so that they are:
able to develop efficient climate change policies. Without an effective COP 22, the Paris agreement runs the risk of being the next Kyoto Protocol. At the time this considered a huge success, but in reality it provided broad objectives rather than concrete strategies, and was not effective in bringing down emission levels and tackling climate change.
COP22 can be considered a success, as all countries pledged to move forward with the Paris Agreement. What is particularly notable is the ambition and enthusiasm of many developing countries, especially those in Africa, to strengthen their climate change policies and reduce carbon emissions. COP22 also saw the launching of the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action to facilitate cooperation with the private sector and promote sustainable development in businesses.
Alongside COP 22, also in Marrakech was the Indigenous Communities pavilion, organised by the International People’s forum and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). At the pavilion, there were representatives from thousands of indigenous communities from around the world. The pavilion housed a series of discussions and exhibitions with the aim of promoting indigenous knowledge and raising awareness of the potential of this knowledge as a solution to climate change. It also called upon world leaders to make decisions which respect the rights of indigenous groups.
Indigenous voices are critical in the discussions concerning climate change, for two main reasons:
The first is that despite that the way of life of indigenous communities are largely carbon neutral and present a sustainable way of living, they are among those most at risk of the effects. This is due to the territorial violations conducted by corporations, ignorance of states, and dependence of indigenous people on the local biodiversity. For example, the Mochica-Chimu people in the north of Peru with whom Habitat Pro Association works, is a fishermen community who have for centuries been making fishing boats from the totora reed plant. Due to the effects of ENSO and continuous illegal occupations and garbage dumps in the wetlands, growing pools for the totora have decreased dramatically. Fishermen in Huanchaco say, 30 years ago the daily catch by a fisherman in reed raft was 30 kilos, now – only 3 kilos that leads to an increasing poverty and drives out indigenous peoples from their land. This is one example, among many, of the ways in which indigenous groups are under threat from climate change and ignorance of states
The second reason why indigenous voices must be heard in the climate change discussions, is that indigenous knowledge, as stated previously, has the potential to be a solution to climate change. For generations these communities have co-existed with the natural environment in a way that respects the natural world and has generated extremely low carbon emissions. Key to their survival over centuries has been their ability to adapt to changing climate and environmental conditions, coming from a deep understanding of the land. The indigenous practice of growing totora reeds in Huanchaco, Perú, is not only a carbon neutral way of fishing, but the plant contributes to the balance of groundwater that helps to mitigate the effects of climate change. This is one example of how indigenous knowledge and traditional practices can be used to help combat climate change.
In global discourse significant developments have been made in the recognition of indigenous knowledge in recent years. For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2014 report on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability stated that: “Indigenous, local, and traditional knowledge systems and practices, including indigenous peoples’ holistic view of community and environment, are a major resource for adapting to climate change” However it is clear that more can and should be done. Indigenous groups need to be more engaged in international climate dialogue. Although the inclusion of the indigenous communities pavilion alongside the conference is a significant development, indigenous groups could have had a more prominent role at the COP22 conference. Combined with developments in science, indigenous knowledge and understanding has the potential to be a solution to climate change.
It is critically important that a permanent and central space be carved out in the international community for enhanced participation of indigenous peoples on the issue of climate change and the essential role that they must play in advancing and implementing models for sustainable development.
1El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is an irregularly periodical variation in winds and sea surface temperatures over the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean, affecting much of the tropics and subtropics. Mechanisms that cause the oscillation remain under study. The extremes of this climate pattern’s oscillations cause extreme weather (such as floods and droughts) in many regions of the world. Developing countries dependent upon agriculture and fishing, particularly those bordering the Pacific Ocean, are the most affected