Climate Change: Talks Could Learn From Indigenous Groups

Dear Editor,

As the United Nations readied for a key climate change meeting in Poland during December, a London-based human rights group warns that any new deal on global warming would be seriously compromised if the most vulnerable groups, specifically Indigenous peoples, are shut out of the negotiations.

“The entire U.N. process will be flawed if communities that have firsthand experience of dealing with climate change are not allowed to participate,” says Minority Rights Group (MRG).

Mark Lattimer, MRG's executive director, says, “because we naturally think of climate change as affecting us all – the whole planet – there is a tendency to resist considering the effect on particular groups.”

“Yet Indigenous peoples living in fragile environments are not only more likely to be affected adversely by climate change, they are already being affected, sometimes in devastating ways,” Lattimer told IPS.

The U.N. meeting in Poznan, Poland  – held Dec. 1-12 was expected to agree on a programme of work in advance of a major U.N. conference on climate change in Copenhagen in December 2009.


Both conferences were working towards a comprehensive climate change regime to be established after 2012 when the Kyoto Protocol, which requires developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, runs out.

Asked if the international community is to be blamed for the continued marginalisation of Indigenous peoples, Lattimer said inter-governmental negotiations frequently marginalise civil society, which has taken decades to find an effective voice in U.N. human rights and development processes.

In the climate change negotiations, which are much more recent, they are still largely excluded, often deliberately, he added.

“Governments think of Indigenous communities, who may face displacement or even the eradication of their homelands, as being part of the problem, when in reality they should be seen as part of the solution,” he added.

The MRG study says the impact of climate change hits Indigenous and minority communities the hardest because they live in ecologically diverse areas and their livelihoods are dependent on the environment.

The livelihoods of Indigenous and minority communities depend heavily on the environment.

Indigenous communities in particular live in fragile ecosystems, ranging from small islands in the Pacific to mountainous regions, arid lands in Africa and the ice-covered Arctic.

The eventual long-term impacts include death or migration to cities, often condemning generations to poverty, and a shift from traditional ways of life.

“Indigenous groups are hoping for a change of approach, but they are likely to be disappointed,” he warned.

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