The Paris Climate Agreement and Indigenous Rights – a view from the side at COP21

ExCiteS’ two intrepid anthropologists, Gill and Carolina, were reunited for a brief period in Paris during December, each participating in a series of side events attached to the 21st Conference of the Parties on Climate Change, better known as COP21.

CC COP21.JPGCarolina, who had travelled all the way to Europe for just a few weeks from her fieldsite in Apiwtxa village on the Brazil/Peru border, was accompanying two Peruvian Ashaninka, Jiribati Ashaninka Diquez and Marishöri Samaniego Pascual, as they worked through a packed schedule of talks, workshops and public appearances to ensure that indigenous voices were heard by the high level delegates involved in the official climate talks. At the centre of their visit was an Ashaninka conference, held at the Musee de Quay Branly on Sunday 6th December, where two films made in Ashaninka indigenous lands were shown and the Ashaninka’s future plans and perceived threats to their territories were discussed with a rapt audience. The second film, shot earlier this year, was especially moving, following a delegation of Ashaninka from Apiwtxa as they visit the sacred sites on the Peruvian side of the border that they remember hearing about in their parents’ and grandparents’ stories. The Brazilian Ashaninka who feature in this film had also been intending to come to Paris, however following news of the tragic terrorist attacks in the capital two weeks previously the Apiwtxa shamans advised them not to travel, so Marishöri and Jiribati spoke on behalf of the Ashaninka populations on both sides of the border. Eloquent and passionate, Marishöri highlighted the impact on her community of the murder of four Ashaninka anti-logging activists last year, and the responsibility the global community has to ensure that indigenous groups like the Ashaninka are supported to manage and protect their ancestral lands.


Gill, who returned from the Congo in August suffering from a collapsed lung, was very fortunate to be recovered enough to travel to Paris in between lung operations. She was presenting Sapelli in a workshop, What Makes Community Based Forest Monitoring Work?, held by the Global Canopy Programme (GCP) as part of the If Not Us Then Who? series of side events at Point Ephemere. Seeking to bring together practitioners, facilitators and community members involved in using a range of approaches and technologies for forest monitoring, GCP’s workshop took the form of an interactive game where groups of participants had to design a community-based monitoring project in a fictional country while keeping within their budget of “galleons”. This meant we had to acknowledge trade-offs – greater levels of community participation were more costly, as were consulting with the government about the proposed project and technological solutions that involved drones, server space or training communities to manage their own data. Presenting their propositions at the end of the workshop, it was striking (although perhaps unsurprising) that most groups discussed their perceived lack of trust in the government of the fictitious country, the high importance of involving as much of each community as possible in FPIC and project design, delivery and evaluation processes, and the need for any technological solutions to be locally tailored. Meanwhile, the most popular wildcard investment was a fiesta to celebrate a successful project! But while it was designed to be fun, the workshop had a serious message – no matter what the outcome of the COP21 talks, what is the actual impact likely to be on the ground, and how can we ensure that forest communities and local knowledge practices are respected in any resulting initiatives?

Outside of these participatory events, Carolina and Gill, along with Jiribati and Marishöri, attended the Global Landscapes Forum, an official two-day side event of COP21 where high profile speakers from organisations such as the World Bank and the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) discussed the form that such resulting initiatives might take. Reforestation schemes, public-private partnerships and REDD+ schemes were all laid out as potential ways in which the climate can be preserved through digilant forest management, however the positive rhetoric was largely unconvincing – as Nigeria’s former finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala commented in the opening plenary, people keep talking about these innovative mechanisms for change, but no one is *doing* anything. Yet it was the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change, who organised a panel discussion involving five indigenous people from across four continents (Africa being glaringly absent), who really highlighted the message that the GLF, and COP21 in general, needed to hear – it cannot be “business as usual” if we are going to address climate change while also assuring the rights of indigenous people to thrive on their traditional lands. Development should be driven not by the needs of markets, but by the needs of the very communities who are most affected by climate change, and who are already the stewards and custodians of the natural resources on which they depend. The media has championed the Paris climate change agreement that resulted from COP21 as a ground-breaking step in the right direction – however it is the actions that take place on the ground over the next five crucial years that will determine whether or not the Paris agreement is worth the paper it’s written on.

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