A Negotiator’s Understanding of the Complications for Indigenous People’s Engagement in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

Indigenous peoples (IPs), defined by Indigenous Survival International are “distinct cultural communities with unique land and other rights based on historical use and occupancy… whose cultures, economies and identities are inextricably tied to their traditional lands and resources”. They are self-defined as descendants of original inhabitants which share strong spiritual and economic attachment. With the vast majority of them in the Asian region, they may also be referred to as tribal people, hill tribes etc.

During the second seminar in Taiwan, Dr. Ian Fry, Ambassador for Climate Change and Environment, Government of Tuvalu and Lecturer of Australian National University explained about negotiating for the indigenous people’s rights in the climate change process. The question remains: how do we identify indigenous peoples from others? Seeing as not all countries are part of the UN negotiation. As stated in Rio+20, the participation of IPs are important for sustainable development in the global, regional, national, and subnational implementation.

Sometimes when we think we are producing clean energy, but indirectly it is actually destroying the IPs land. The hydro dams for example flood villages are destroying farmlands and hunting grounds and disrupting fishing patterns for IPs.

Agonisingly, IPs are greatly impacted from climate change, for instance, the melting of glaciers, permafrost in Alaska (where there is an increase in methane due to this process), severe drought in Africa and also an increase of temperature which has caused coral bleaching in the Pacific. Fortunately, IPs adapt to climate change as they work as herders, fishers, and hunters for their livelihood. With their collective knowledge, they are observant enough to see any tiny changes in water cycles, wildlife, soil, and weather.

Hence, IPs have key demands to protect their own rights of which we should consider. Recognition of their rights: rights of nature, promotion of development in harmony with nature, balancing ancestral knowledge and development as well as finally identifying priorities to address climate change. Consequently, Dr. Ian Fry provided the attendees with some tips for finding trade-offs alongside relevant examples to be practiced in the negotiation process.

  1. Use an exception – creating special situations for disadvantaged countries. Example: All countries have to reduce their emissions except Least Developed Countries
  2. Create a narrow start – having limited obligations at the beginning to develop points over time. Example: Limit restrictions to only ten chemicals
  3. Offer a broad brush approach – apply general rules to everyone. Example: All countries should develop adaptation plans
  4. Provide a compensation clause – create restrictions on an action but compensate poorer or disadvantaged countries for taking actions. Example: Countries that stop the use of CFCs will be given funding and the transfer of technology without patents to allow the use of other chemicals

Imperatively, slippery negotiating words like as appropriate, if appropriate, as necessary, if necessary give discretion to a country to decide whether an action is appropriate or not. Words like consider allow countries to think about it further and not necessarily make a decision. Another three essential words that change a statement are may (optional requirement, at the discretion of the party), should (an obligation created, but not compulsory) and shall (compulsory requirement).

It is also critical to invest time to know the issues we are dealing with, hear what others have to say, demonstrate respect for negotiating partners, show patience, show polite assertiveness, gain support of others and be inclusive, use language sensitively, understand the negotiating language, find common ground, accentuate the positive, handle pressure, know when to trade, lock-in agreements, and ultimately, to refrain from giving in early.

In a nutshell, the new UN platform will enable LCIPs to have an active role in shaping the process of climate change adaptation in a holistic and integrative manner.

Written by Liyana binti Yamin

Edited by Renee


The Indo-Pacific and Southeast Asia Seminar on Climate Change was hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), Taiwan and coordinated by National Tsing Hua University. Malaysia Youth Delegation (MYD) was honoured to be invited and hosted by the generosity of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Malaysia. 

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