Local Communities and Indigenous People in the UNFCCC Process

“We need them, and they need us to move forward”, Mr. Carlos Fuller

Mr. Carlos’s sentence lingered in my mind for till now. The fact that indigenous people and local communities held the knowledge and traditional practices in a holistic manner to combat climate change, it matters more for us to help strengthen their effort to establish the platform of knowledge exchange. The first seminar topic was on Local Communities and Indigenous People in the UNFCCC Process. Mr. Carlos Fuller, who was the Former Chair to the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), explained the issue extensively with examples.

UNESCO plays a vital role to protecting and supporting to the indigenous people. Also, Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has an ad hoc working group for the implementation of article 8J to respect, preserve and maintain the traditional knowledge and lifestyle of the indigenous people.

In addition, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) which was adopted in 2007 established a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world and it elaborates on existing human rights standards and fundamental freedoms as they apply to the specific situation of indigenous peoples. There is also the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) which acts as a task force to promote effective engagement with indigenous and local knowledge holders in all relevant aspects of its work.

Local Communities and Indigenous People (LCIPs) have been involved in environmental processes ever since the United Nations discussion in Rio 1992. Principle 22 mentions that LCIPs plays a vital role in environmental management and development because of their knowledge and traditional practices. Additionally, the Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC), an association that act as the caucus of interest in UNFCCC negotiating process have a unifying voice among all countries aims to make the powerful push to meet the demands of smaller developing states. Unfortunately, IIPFCC is yet to be acknowledged as an admitted observer organisation under UNFCCC. Among the current issues argued on indigenous people and local communities are stated as below:

  1. There are still no clear-cut on the definition of the indigenous people and local communities.
  2. No permanent/temporary working group
  3. Mode of work through consensus/majority/observers are still undefined
  4. Geographic borders to identify indigenous people might be a problem as some are nomadic.
  5. Validation of indigenous people and local community knowledge.
  6. Local communities have no established organisation

Despite the various recognised rights of the IPs, the previous COP23 has only “noted” adoption of DRIPS. A platform for knowledge which functions to be a facilitative workgroup for climate policies and action and capacity for engagement should be established. As declared in Article 16 of UNDRIP, indigenous people are free to access to non-indigenous media to advertise their own media in their own language without any discrimination.

By understanding the core principles of indigenous people and local communities: full participation, given equal status, self-selection, and adequate funding for them will enable recognition of their rights and interests. As suggested by Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), the guide to solidify the platform is by:

  • Through an incremental approach to ensure effective operationalisation
  • Dual leadership role.
  • Open multi-stakeholder

For the upcoming COP24, a draft decision has been made to solidify the plan. Establishing a facilitative working group will be discussed whether to make it permanent or temporary. The mode of work, membership and work plan for LCIP will still be a concern as there may be a conflict of interest. However, it is always good to reflect back on previous agreements with no “cherry picking”.

In conclusion, indigenous people and local communities play an essential role in UNFCCC process to be protected. Having an operationalised platform for LCIPs, it can provide a space to exchange of experience of the best practices, enable their engagement in UNFCCC and other relevant processes, also allowing integration of the knowledge respecting the systems to be communicated into climate change agenda.

Written by Liyana binti Yamin

Edited by Varun


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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