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Poznan: Arrested Decision–on to Copenhagen

Published: December 18, 2008, Author: MHirch

Indigenous representatives delegated to observe the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change in Poznan, Poland met in morning sessions of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change every day for two weeks. Drawing on very limited financial resources delegates traveled from Africa, Asia, South America, North America, the Pacific Region and Europe. Some could stay in Poznan for a week or less while a few were able to stay through the two weeks.

What happened? Well, having arrived for the second week I saw that delegates who had already departed agreed to their frustration that indigenous representatives had no formal role in the the conference except to meet in the morning sessions. The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues should have been at the conference facilitating indigenous participation, but it was not. Suprisingly only a single former member of the Permanent Forum was present. More than 5000 delegates from non-governmental organizations (corporations, advocacy organizations, civil society organizations, labor organizations, etc). States’ government delegations representing about 192 states sent nearly 4000 delegates and multi-lateral organizations (UN, ILO, OAS, etc) sent the remainder of what would be about 10,000 participants listed in the roster.

The frustration among indigenous delegates was palpable with not having the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognized by the UN conference as a legitimate and relevant instrument of state agreement. This frustration followed the realization that the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD) initiative fails to recognize the territorial rights of indigenous peoples.

REDD focuses on:

    »the causes of deforestation
    »policy tools for REDD, including bilateral and multilateral cooperation
    »ways to provide incentives for REDD, including financial mechanisms, and
    »technical issues associated with measuring REDD and implementing policies for REDD.

One of the risks of the REDD initiative is that states’ governments often claim ownership of forests and tend to ignore indigenous peoples and their original use and occupation of the forests.  It is on this issue that delegates participating in the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change sessions expressed their outrage and opposition.

Indigenous delegates also agreed that the Conference must formally acknowledge the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and its relevance to the overarching debate about climate change and remedies for climate change.  The delegates noted that the states’ governments and NGOs present ignored this recently adopted UN policy.  Indigenous delegates also advocated the establishment of an Expert Group of Indigenous on Climate Change as a formal body of the Conference of Parties to advise on policies deemed important to the climate change dialog by indigenous peoples.

Indigenous delegates met with the Bolivian government’s lead delegate for a discussion about conveying the Indigenous Forum issues to the Plenary session. Bolivia’s official affirmed his government’s support for Indigenous peoples, but step lightly around the possibility of formally tabling the three main concerns of the Indigenous forum to the Plenary session.

While the Indigenous delegations were frustrated by the wide gap between indigenous issues and concerns and those of the states’ governments, the gap between states’ governments appeared to be equally wide over setting targets for carbon dioxide emission limits by 2020 and 2050.  Indeed, the conference can be said to have failed to achieve this major goal completely.  The United States government delegation appeared to have been a major obstacle to agreement along with the diverted focus of states’ delegates frantically concerned about the global financial crisis.  The US policies are short sighted–favoring business profits over carbon reductions, and suddenly European, Asian and Africa states became equally short sighted with their concerns over the failing economy. The pending climate disaster laid on the table, but the currency question covered it up.

States’ governments did agree to focus on developing country needs for support on climate change policy implementation, technology transfer and the institution of mechanisms to assist developing countries.  This appears to be the major accomplishment of the conference.

While indigenous delegates were clearly frustrated (as delegates had been in the Bali conference in 2007), and states’ governments’ stalled on their goal for targeted emissions reductions preparatory for a treaty in 2009 (which appears will be delayed by a year now) there were some quiet gains that may produce important changes in the process in 2009.  Preliminary talks between some indigenous delegates and several states’ government representatives produced the possibility of a mutually agreed establishment of a contact group for formalizing a dialog on climate change policy over the next twelve months and during the Conference of Parties in Copenhagen in December 2009.  This small opening between states’ governments and indigenous nations may well produce a new level of cooperation between these important parties that could have an important influence on the success or failure of the new climate change treaty.  I hope this is true.  It is clear to me that indigenous peoples must be seated at the same table as the states’ governments to participate in final decisions about the future of humanity.  Without this important step we may see yet another failure in 2009 and 2010.

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