Thirty years ago the United Nations was at the center of what was called the “North-South Debate.” The so-called poor countries and rich countries wrestled over demands by poor countries for rich countries to send some of their wealth to help them with economic struggles and environmental degradation. The poor countries (mostly former colonies of the rich countries) claimed the rich countries should share the wealth since they became wealthy by exploiting poor countries. The “North-South Debate” whithered into nearly three decades of grumbling until the problem of climate change reared its head.
The problem of exploited poor countries–the problem of post colonialism–has arrived at the center of efforts to solve the climate change challenge. Money in the trillions is now thought to be essential in a global sharing program to effectively help all countries set up adaptation responses to rapidly changing climate threatening whole societies with inundation. The rich states are suggesting only $10 billion each year for sharing–hardly a “drop in the bucket.”
In the midst of the opening days of the UN Climate Change Copenhagen negotiations for a political agreement instead of a binding treaty the “Danish Text” was leaked into what then became a fire storm of recriminations. On the ground in Copenhagen it appears that the US, China and India side agreement (apparently resulting from a whirlwind set of meetings between the US and the leaders of China and India in November) has turned into the “Danish text” for an agreement said to be in the process of being shaped for signing by the end of the conference on 18 December. The political agreement contains proposals to weaken the UN’s involvement in climate decision-making (thus removing most countries from the dialog), force poorer countries to agree to specific emission cuts in exchange for some funds, dividing poor countries into subgroups including “the most vulnerable,” (divide and conquer?), put the World Bank in charge of distributing funds, and “Not allow poor countries to emit more than 1.44 tonnes of carbon per person by 2050, while allowing rich countries to emit 2.67 tonnes.” Such terms would effectively change the terms of agreements reached in Bali a year ago and change the spirit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Ambassador Todd Stern, the US negotiator on climate change, signaled a narrowing of partners for the agreement on climate change in statements last summer, and it appears that his plan to narrow negotiating partners to China, India and probably some parts of the European Union may now be in the works. It appears that the “biggest carbon polluters” (accounting for more than 50% of the world’s carbon emissions) have agreed to protect their economies while minimizing the affects of reduced carbon emissions on those economies.
In the midst of the growing political storm are thousands of indigenous nations inside poor and rich countries. The revived North-South Debate that proved so fruitless years ago now threatens to bury indigenous peoples as states’ government representatives yell at each other over money and exploitation and the failure to share.
Indigenous peoples are the peoples first colonized by China, European states, Russia and India. Indigenous peoples lands, life support plants, animals and water have been stolen and exploited as free resources for states making them rich. Indigenous peoples are not contributing to the global climate crisis yet they are first to be adversely affective by the changing climate.
States’ delegates must stop acting like children and recognize that the adult response to changing climate is to recognize that all humans are in the same boat. All humans are at risk. The commons is shared by all humans and does not exist for only a few.
The human challenge we call climate change requires thoughtful and mature consideration of adaptation measures using the best knowledge available in the world. It is in the security interest of states governments to sit with representatives of all human societies, but work out solutions at the local ecosystem level and embrace those solutions at the international level. Many wealthy people will need to lose their wealth and many poor people will die in the next ten to twenty years due to lost habitat.
Indigenous peoples have a responsibility to constructively contribute to the process by acting pro-actively to demonstrate effective adaptation responses with or without money. The challenge is about life and living things. We need to contribute to the international dialog, but we must act to formulate responses to the changes already upon us in our own territories.
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