‘A death sentence’: Indigenous climate activists denounce Cop26 deal
Schemes such as carbon trading favored by polluting nations lead to ecologically destructive projects like biofuels and dams
Indigenous communities facing an upsurge in land grabs, water shortages and human rights violations as a result of the Cop26 deal have accused world leaders of sacrificing them in order to postpone meaningful climate action and shield corporate profits.
The Glasgow deal creates a regulated global carbon trading market – a move widely supported by the world’s biggest polluters including the US – allowing countries to partially meet their climate targets by buying credits representing emission cuts by others.
Critics warn that carbon markets incentivize countries and corporations to offset – rather than cut – emissions responsible for global heating by investing in so-called green energy projects like biofuel monocrops and hydroelectric dams, which are linked to environmental destruction, forced displacement, arbitrary arrests and even murder.
In addition, such carbon credit schemes often rely on sequestering land, forests and rivers relied on by indigenous and local communities for food, water, medicine and spiritual traditions, and there is little evidence to suggest they lead to a genuine drop in emissions.
In fact, global emissions have continued to skyrocket since carbon credits were first incentivized under the voluntary Kyoto protocol in 1997, as have abuses against indigenous and rural communities defending land rights and natural resources.
Now, Indigenous communities fear what’s coming next as the scope and scale of the new global carbon market – introduced in article 6 of the Paris accords – is much wider. Far more countries and industries, including the US, Saudi Arabia and civil aviation, will participate.
“Cop26 leaders signed an agreement that will entrench sacrificing Indigenous people … [but] failed to include real solutions to meet the climate chaos that many of our frontline Indigenous communities are facing,” said Thomas Joseph from the Hoopa tribe, located in California. “The leaders pushing for market-based solutions and the commodification of our Mother Earth are signing a death sentence.”
Andrea Xieu, a spokesperson for the Mexican collective Futuros Indigenas (Indigenous Futures) described the deal as an embarrassment that illustrated the murky influence of fossil fuel companies in Glasgow.
More than 500 fossil fuel lobbyists, affiliated with some of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies, were granted access to Cop26 – a larger number than any single country delegation. Meanwhile, indigenous people were mostly excluded, and their traditional knowledge on sustainable land and water management sidelined.
“Indigenous nations were not part of the negotiations despite the fact that 80% of the planet’s biodiversity survives in our territories. The problem is not only the blah, blah, blah of politicians, but the bang, bang, bang of greenwashing that will continue to destroy our lives and territories,” said Xieu.
At least 1,005 environmental and land rights defenders have been murdered since the Paris accords were signed six years ago, according to the international non-profit Global Witness. One in three of those killed were Indigenous people. The dead include Lenca leader Berta Caceres, winner of the prestigious Goldman prize for environmental defenders, who was shot dead at her home in Honduras in March 2016 for opposing the construction of an internationally financed dam.
Carbon trading is one of the so-called nature-based solutions to the climate crisis heavily promoted by big polluters at Cop26 as the silver bullet to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 with little pain for people in the global north.
But critics say offsetting carbon is a false solution as it essentially allows polluters to keep polluting and thus net zero is not actually zero.
“Net zero is a scam. It is used as a smokescreen to avoid actual transition away from fossil fuels and carry on business as usual by relying on unproven carbon capture technologies and offsets,” said Sebastien Duyck, senior attorney from the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL) and an official observer.
At the last minute, activists helped secure a handful of new safeguards for article 6 such as an independent grievance mechanism. But according to Duyck, carbon markets remain counterproductive and fundamentally harmful. Investors will still be able to qualify for incentives without complying with international treaties that require indigenous people to be properly consulted.
“Article 6 creates a way for public and private investors to weaponize the Paris agreement for the sake of profits at the cost of local communities and indigenous people’s rights,” added Duyck.
Another nature-based solution popular with polluters is the creation of carbon sinks through massive reforestation and afforestation programs.
While not part of the official Cop26 deal, according to some calculations countries collectively pledged to plant enough trees to cover a landmass the size of Australia. However, that threatens livelihoods, food security and sacred traditions of indigenous communities and small scale farmers who use much of the land being earmarked for tree planting.
“Nature-based solutions sound nice, but they won’t solve the climate crisis even if you’re willing to sacrifice indigenous people and local communities,” said Sophie Grig from Survival International. “Net zero is disingenuous and a diversion from doing what needs to be done now: stop burning fossil fuels and protect indigenous land rights.”
Also gaining traction is the UN’s 30 by 30 initiative – a plan to conserve 30% of the planet’s land and seas by 2030 through conservation measures like doubling protected nature reserves, which Joe Biden has promised to implement as part of his climate strategy.
Speaking in Glasgow last week, Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, said 30 by 30 would be the biggest planet grab in history, leading to millions of people being displaced.
Another big worry for indigenous communities is Cop26’s failure to help those on the frontline recover, rebuild and adapt to global heating.
Rich polluting countries succeeded in obstructing the creation of a loss and damage fund to compensate communities who have already lost their homes and livelihoods from floods, droughts, heatwaves and rising sea levels. After almost 15 years of discussion and delays on loss and damage, the Glasgow deal mandates further dialogue.
“The results of this Cop are not a surprise, but they represent the state of the governments and their feelings, which are completely at odds with wider civil society demanding concrete actions and urgent measures,” said Calfin Lafkenche, a Mapuche organiser with the Minga movement, an indigenous solidarity network.
In response to the acts and omissions at Cop26, the women of the Kichwa Indigenous People of Sarayaku, located in Ecuador, declared a state of emergency, citing the summit’s failure to address the existential threats posed to them by fossil fuel companies and the climate crisis.
In a statement, the women said: “Indigenous peoples resist the extraction of natural resources with our bodies, with our lives. Our contribution to tackling climate change must be recognized. Our solutions must be heard.”