Indigenous rights groups have demanded an official role in planning for a new global fund aimed at helping developing countries combat climate change.
In an open letter to policymakers released last week, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) and Jaringan Orang Asal Se-Malaysia (JOAS) urged the global community to include indigenous groups in planning for the Global Climate Fund (GCF).
The United Nations-backed GCF committee met for the first time on Thursday to discuss a proposed US$100 billion dollar fund that is expected to help developing countries reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change impacts such as sea level rise, altered weather patterns and changing agricultural conditions.
The letter from the NGOs accompanied a report providing advice on climate funding for representatives of the world’s 370 million indigenous people, who take part in global climate discussions through the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC).
Indigenous cultures have deep ties to nature and sustainable lifestyles that provide crucial lessons to the rest of the world, said IIPFCC members in a declaration at the recent Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brazil.
Human rights advocates have criticised the final version of Rio+20 outcome document for failing to hold individual countries accountable to internationally agreed standards for indigenous rights protection.
“Indigenous peoples and human rights organisations were very disappointed to learn that some governments sought to eliminate rights language and in the end any mention of rights was also entirely lost,” noted FPP in a statement after the summit.
Traditional knowledge and diverse local economies are crucial to poverty eradication and sustainable development, which are the cornerstones of green economies, the NGO added.
Many of the ongoing conflicts with indigenous groups are in the world’s tropical forests, where deforestation has been identified by experts as a leading cause of climate change. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, deforestation causes 17 per cent of global carbon emissions.
Indonesia, which holds some of the largest remaining rainforests, signed a two-year moratorium on clearing forests in 2011 to halt deforestation as part of its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It also started several projects to protect endangered forests, but implementation has proven difficult.
Last year in Central Kalimantan, indigenous groups demanded the suspension of forest conservation projects on their ancestral lands because they claimed that they had not been consulted.
An independent study by Timor-Leste based Trevaylor Consulting found that engaging indigenous groups and other local communities in Indonesia was essential to stopping deforestation. Programmes that support local communities’ responsible use and management of land was found to be the most effective approach to a conservation effort.
Environmental groups claim that forestry industries such as palm oil and timber - the same industries involved in most of the documented land use conflicts with indigenous groups - are driving Indonesia’s deforestation.
A 2007 UN agreement called the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) established the universal right for indigenous groups to participate fully in projects and policy decisions that affect them.
The declaration also stated that indigenous communities would defend their lands and resources from exploitation and unsustainable development projects such as mining, large scale dams and plantations, as well as the theft of biodiversity and traditional knowledge.
Last week’s letter from FPP and JOAS called on the GCF committee to adhere to the declaration with three major actions:
- Give indigenous groups an active role at GCF meetings to enforce transparency and respect for their involvement in UN processes;
- Create safeguards to protect indigenous groups and ensure their recognition by the international community. GCF projects should comply with UNDRIP principles.
- Provide indigenous groups with direct access to funding to bypass government bureaucracy through a separate fund. A similar fund has already been proposed for private sector projects.
The 48-member board of the GCF spent three days in Geneva reviewing options for a new headquarters, and is expected to meet again in South Korea in October prior to this year’s global climate talks in Qatar.
The GCF has yet to receive any funding, although wealthy nations had previously pledged to give US$30 billion from 2010 to 2012.
NGOs FPP and JOAS said in their letter they wanted to ensure that when funds become available, they are not used in ways that risk the livelihoods of indigenous peoples.
“The Green Climate Fund can play a significant role in bolstering support for adaptation and mitigation, but in order to do so, it must recognise and respect international human rights…and fully recognise indigenous peoples’ right to participation in its governance structures,” the letter noted.
Written by Eco-Business intern Nicholas Payne.