Indigenous Peoples’ Rights and Land Tenure: Fostering Partnerships to Tackle Climate Change

Today is Saturday and Saturday means holiday. Oh wait, not really! Albeit I am in Paris, this does not mean that I am in a holiday mood. #COP21 summarises my situation now.

I attended a parallel event called Global Landscapes Forum 2015 (GLF). GLF is the leading platform to bring together individuals and organizations that have an impact on land use. The forum focuses on land use as a key sector to achieve global climate and sustainability goals. The forum is crowded and it seems like a mini COP21 to me, just that it does not involved negotiation process. Few events were held concurrently within the venue. I attended “Indigenous Peoples’ rights and land tenure: Fostering partnerships to tackle climate change” forum.

As mentioned in the name of the event, this session focuses on how climate change affects Indigenous people and the countermeasures taken to mitigate the effects. Indigenous people from around the globe such as Philippine, U.S, Sweden, Brazil, and Indonesia were given chances to voice out their concerns.

Based on their speeches, there are 2 similarities. The most distinct one would be the dispossession of ancestral land. Dispossession of land comes in many forms, it can be due to deforestation, land intrusion, or even building new infrastructure like mega hydrodam. All in the name of development. Dispossession of land caused adverse impact on the likelihood of the indigenous people, as well as biodiversity. Per Jonas Patapuoli, the indigenous people representative from Sweden described the hard time they need to go through as their source of income (reindeer farm) is affected by the coal mining.

The second similarity is the disrespect of the rights of indigenous people and their land. Joan Carling from Philippine pointed out an important insight when she was giving her speech. The introduction of renewable energy (biofuel, solar and hydro) is a good starting point to phase out fossil fuel. However, to build these new “green” infrastructures requires vast amount of space. Inevitably, forest will be the “first choice of victim” that comes in mind and, forest is home to most of the indigenous people. Building infrastructure on the indigenous people land without their consent is not a sustainable development, nor can it be considered as a long-term goal. A holistic approach needs to be taken into account when negotiating with the indigenous people. She also gave a real life example of the indigenous people in Malaysia, who are building mini hydro dam for electricity generation (with provision). By doing this, it enhances their livelihood and sense of ownership on the land.

In order to achieve sustainable development, the economy should not be driven by the market but the need of the people and community. Private sectors and governments need to respect and ensure free prior consent, transparent and clear measures of benefit sharing. Besides, long term partnerships with the indigenous people are critical as this will create empowerment and trust. In my opinion, this is how a sustainable development should look like.

While reading the ECO Newsletter, I found out that Norway refuses to include language in Article 2 that would protect human right, which includes the indigenous people rights. Indigenous people are at the frontline of the climate change. No one have clearer understanding and exposure on the situation better than them. They should be included in the decision making process.

“Coal is the liver of Mother Earth . It has to stay in the ground so she can be healthy – Diner Elder Roberta Blackgoat”

Written by: Thomas Lai
Edited by: Merryn Choong

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