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Resist: Indigenous Activists and Participation at the UN Climate Action Summit

Indigenous leaders and activists from around the world travelled to New York last week for the UN Climate Action Summit. Speaking on behalf of the International Indigenous People’s Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC), representative Tuntiak Katan of the Ecuadorian Shur people joined world leaders on stage. This marked the first time an indigenous representative participated at the event in a formal capacity. Emphasizing the role of indigenous peoples in protecting the planet, Katan noted that indigenous peoples “are more than 400 million” and “protect 80% of the world’s biodiversity.”


Additionally, Katan stressed the need for human rights-based solutions that include indigenous participation and traditional, as well as scientific knowledge. He also discussed indigenous rights including prior informed consent and self-determination, which is outlined in the UN Declaration for Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Moreover, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) have included a commitment to indigenous inclusion and participation of local knowledge holders in decision-making and relevant aspects of their work.


Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) conducted a systematic review, including approximately 15,000 scientific and government sources, and for the first time drew on indigenous and local knowledge. It was consistent with Katan’s claims, noting the importance of indigenous inclusion and governance of biological diversity. It states that “three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. On average these trends have been less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLC).” It also notes that environments managed by IPLCs are increasingly under pressure.


This was echoed by Amazonian advocates present at the summit, including Chief Raoni Metuktire of the Kayapó tribe. He and other indigenous leaders protested the Brazilian president’s authorization of deforestation of the Amazon. Chief Metuktire discussed the recent outbreak of wildfires and spoke out against opening the rain forest to agribusiness, mining, and logging. Furthermore, many indigenous youth activists joined the summit and stood with other youth advocates around the world at UNICEF headquarters filing complaints against major polluters for failing to uphold their responsibilities under the Rights of the Child Convention.


To view an excerpt of Tuntiak Katan’s speech, please see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwqdU7-Q_zk.

To see the IPBES’ media release and access the full report, please see https://www.ipbes.net/news/Media-Release-Global-Assessment.

Photo Credit: Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA

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