The Glasgow climate summit
Of indigenous peoples and lobbyists
Representatives of indigenous peoples from across the world came to the climate summit in Glasgow, hopeful that they could use the opportunity to raise awareness and make their concerns heard regarding the advancing destruction resource extraction and climate change are wreaking on their habitats. Due to the pandemic, they had to overcome considerable logistical, administrative and financial hurdles on their way to this "most inclusive of all climate summits" (according to the host, the United Kingdom), which only turned out to be the most exclusive summit of all. Some 200 indigenous representatives made up less than 1% of the 25,000 or so COP participants, and the fossil fuel lobbyists were already there.
The situation of the indigenous peoples in Amazonia and their demands
In the run-up to COP26, COICA, Climate Alliance partner and umbrella organisation of the nine national indigenous organisations of the Amazon basin, had already drafted a declaration on the protection of human rights defenders: in 2020 alone, 202 were killed in Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. Governments should, among other things, neither allow external access to indigenous territories without the consent of the indigenous peoples nor permit violence against human rights defenders.1
At the summit, Gregorio Mirabal, COICA's General Coordinator, warned that the whole of the Amazon rainforest is in danger of being transformed from a sink to a source of greenhouse gases with 22% already degraded and deforested and 66% under threat. In order to avoid its transformation into a carbon sorce, 80% of Amazonia should be placed under protection by 2025. Like many others, Miguel Guimaraes, Vice-President of AIDESEP, the Union of Peruvian Indigenous Associations, decried the situation in his homeland, bitterly lamenting, "When we denounce deforestation, we are only answered with threats but the State does nothing at all."
Adding to this, less than 1% of funds for rainforest conservation reach indigenous communities. "Governments are carbon pirates,” concluded Tuntiak Katan of the Shuar people in Ecuador, coordinator of the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities (AGCT) and vice-coordinator of COICA. “They are stealing the carbon rights in our territories and taking money that is not reaching our communities at all."2
Yet indigenous peoples have many successful projects to protect the rainforests. "We have already realised many projects with our traditional knowledge and methods,” explained Fermín Chimatani, President of ANECAP from Peru. “Specifically, we demand effective participation in the entire course of the projects. We want to be partners and not recipients."
At least the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform was a success, resulting in the concerns of local groups and indigenous communities gaining mention in many conference texts. The mandate of its working group within the UN Climate Change Secretariat was approved for another three years.3
Climate neutral – nothing else matters
Despite some successes, a new threat to indigenous peoples gained prominence in Glasgow. Everyone now wants to become "climate neutral" by 2040 or 2050 and achieve "net zero". With the term "net zero" comes the offsetting of a portion of greenhouse gases emitted. For indigenous peoples, this means that a new wave of monoculture projects is taking over and threatening their livelihoods. Article 6 on emission rights poses a similar issue. While it repeatedly states that countries "should take into account" the interests of indigenous peoples, their central demand for the right to "free, prior and informed consent" does not appear. "We need real mitigation and we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground. Carbon offsets continue the theft of Indigenous peoples' lands and our territories,” commented Tom Goldtooth of the Navajo people in the USA, Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network. “Our brothers and sisters have protected their lands and forests for thousands of years. Carbon offsets are a new form of colonialism."4
Phasing out fossil fuels
All that remained of the fossil fuel phase-out was vague phrasing. Only "unabated" emissions from coal burning and only "inefficient" subsidies for fossil fuels should end – a task for creative corporate accountants and a success for the 500 coal, oil and gas lobbyists forming the largest group in Glasgow5, larger than any country delegation (led by Brazil with 483 delegates). The demand of many indigenous groups to "leave the oil in the ground" went unheard in Glasgow. Oil extraction in Amazonia can thus continue unchecked. Although emissions from fossil fuels cause severe loss and damage to many vulnerable populations, indigenous peoples have been left empty-handed. A common description of the situation coming from civil society: fraud.
Depicting the results
Based on the urgency of the problem – the atmosphere’s remaining buffer, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report and the climate catastrophes worldwide – one must unfortunately admit that the summit has failed. This is what the watering down of the fossil energy phase-out, the flawed outcome on Loss & Damage, the new unquestioned goals of "climate neutrality" and "net zero" and the unlimited amount of new projects to offset and capture CO2 stand for. CAN International's press release of 13.11.21 was entitled, "COP26: Rich Nations Betray Vulnerable People of the World".
"The measures set out by the 197 signatory countries of the Glasgow Pact are insufficient in the face of the current climate crisis. The final document shows the lack of political will of the most industrialised and polluting countries for a real energy transition ... It is time for developed countries, ... institutions and non-governmental organisations to work together once and for all with indigenous organisations and peoples and put into action the commitments made to achieve climate goals and ensure the protection of the Amazon." – COICA in its statement on the COP26 outcomes (full text: ES | EN)
The indigenous news agency Servindi (Servicios de Comunicación Intercultural) writes: "The goals were not achieved. A feeling of disappointment and helplessness spread throughout the world after the conclusion of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26). It was a climate summit packed with lobbyists from the oil, gas and coal industries, and predominantly made up of people from the richest and most polluting countries."6
There is not much more left to add. The way the climate summits work, with their compulsion for unanimity that levels everything down, with all the ever-present fossil fuel industry lobbyists and their dwindling credibility – it won’t work like this. Pressure from the streets and the intervention of civil society organisations is needed more than ever to push countries to follow up on their promises and commitments with action. The global justice gap is widening. In the Climate Alliance network, we have the opportunity to make it a little smaller. We must act and we can act. The indigenous peoples of Amazonia need our support and we need their knowledge to be able to leave our children a world worth living in.
Written by Dietmar Mirkes, former National Coordinator of Climate Alliance Luxembourg
- COICA (4 November 2021): Declaracion de Glasgow sobre metas para la proteccion de defensora desde la coica en la cop26. URL: https://coicamazonia.org/declaracion-de-glasgow-sobre-metas-para-la-proteccion-de-defensores-y-defensoras-desde-la-coica-en-la-cop26/ (Accessed on 10/12/2021)
- Astrid Arellano (17 November 2021): ENTREVISTA | Tuntiak Katan: “Si esperamos que una decisión que se tome en la COP26 se refleje en terreno, quizás no va a suceder”. URL: https://es.mongabay.com/2021/11/entrevista-tuntiak-katan-cop26-cambio-climatico/ (Accessed on 10/12/2021)
- UNFCCC/SBSTA (6 November 2021): Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform. URL: https://unfccc.int/documents/307767 (Accessed on 10/12/2021)
- Climate Action Network International (13 November 2021): COP26: Rich nations betray vulnerable people of the world. URL: https://climatenetwork.org/2021/11/13/cop26-rich-nations-betray-vulnerable-people-of-the-world/ (Accessed on 10/12/2021)
- Global Witness (8 November 2021): Hundreds of fossil fuel lobbyists flooding COP26 climate talks. URL: https://www.globalwitness.org/en/press-releases/hundreds-fossil-fuel-lobbyists-flooding-cop26-climate-talks/ (Accessed on 10/12/2021)
- Servindi (15 November 2021): La cumbre de Glasgow cierra con un clima de decepción. URL: https://www.servindi.org/actualidad-noticias/15/11/2021/la-cumbre-de-glasgow-cierra-con-un-clima-de-decepcion (Accessed on 10/12/2021)