• Indigenous Climate Action

ICA at the 23rd UNFCCC talks in Bonn, Germany

(A view of the Bula Zone aka where all the governments are negotiating articles)

So, I have a bunch of updates for you. In the last few days the Indigenous Peoples Caucus (IP Caucus), has been meeting on a daily basis to come to agreement on our lobbying strategy and language. As mentioned before the IP Caucus works on consensus and represents Indigenous Peoples globally. There is a long-standing protocol that the participants of the Caucus work together to achieve a joint statement/proposal, that we respect the process of the caucus and abide the joint decisions. It’s not to say, Indigenous Peoples don’t’ lobby their own governments or move on other issues at these events. However, in terms of the implementation of the Paris Agreement we work through the caucus.

All that being said, here is where we are at. The following language is the Indigenous Peoples Platform proposal for today that has not been agreed upon yet by the IP Caucus:

“Establish a [Structure] with full and effective participation of Indigenous Peoples from all seven regions with equal status to parties. With Indigenous Peoples’ representatives as co-facilitators together with State Parties, selected in accordance with their own procedures.

The open-ended ad hoc working group will encourage measures that will ensure the full and effective participation of indigenous women in decision-making processes at all levels and in all areas and eliminate barriers to their participation in political, economic, social and cultural life. (OP17 WCIP OD, last para)

Indigenous Peoples will select their representatives and co-facilitators in accordance with their own procedures, considering gender balance. The co-facilitators will be rotated on a basis to be agreed upon.

The open-ended ad hoc working group should ensure that the platform promotes actions at the national, regional and global levels, with appropriate financial resources, and support for UN languages.”

So far Russian Indigenous people have supported this language, it sounds like North America region will support this language as well. We had to close the session before everyone could digest and respond to the language as presented. There are times when even we as Indigenous Peoples have to negotiate with each other as well. Just like the states/parties do.

So sometimes in the IP Caucus, we are called upon to work together in regions for decisions on specific issues. That means everyone here would break into regions: North America, South America, Arctic, ect. Then the regions are expected to developed a joint position together that they then negotiate with the larger IP Caucus.

So, those three paragraphs don’t seem like much right? Well they help define our position so we can work from here. Often there are pages and pages we are working through. If the work is cumbersome then a smaller working group will be created to go through the process and come back to the IP Caucus with a proposal. There are a few different processes that we use to get work done. Just remember that when we are in full caucus, there are at least three official languages that are being simultaneously translated! Anything written is usually done in English, sometimes if we are lucky to have translation support we will have additional versions in other languages. In terms of negotiated text/language, this generally done in English. So, that means in the larger UN system everyone is expected to speak, read and understand English as a working language. Most people in the globe speak more than one language, north Americans generally don’t. I’ve met people that can speak 7 languages who participate here! The better you can communicate the more you can engage.

The following picture or short Instagram is a shot of the internal workings of SBSTA or the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice. If you play the video you will hear the Ecuadorian representative talking and as she is talking the language is being typed into the document in red.

Okay, let’s back up a bit. Yesterday SBSTA held a meeting called an “Informal, informal,” session. Sounds a bit crazy right? Well SBSTA usually has a chairs or facilitators depending on the mandate the body has been given by the states/countries. You can see them in the above video very briefly. That is considered an informal session, because Indigenous Peoples and others who have accreditation for the UN can observe the negotiations. An “informal informal,” session is the parties/states meeting together with each other without a facilitator, and support of the UN Secretariat and where observers can be in the room. Closed sessions are when the countries only are allowed, with facilitators/chairs depends on the purpose of the meeting. All of these kinds of meeting happen every day at the UNFCCC on various agenda items. The Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform is Agenda Item #13 of the Paris Agreement. This group of countries under SBSTA has the job of developing this platform. So here we are now. Deeply engaged in the discussions of the platform.

Yesterday in the SBSTA meetings, Ecuador representing the G77 group of countries said they have been discussing the platform and are almost ready to bring a proposal forward from the G77. China’s representative then backed up this statement. Technically it is the G77 plus China. At that moment, the countries in the room decided to adjourn to give the G77 time to finish their proposal.

So today we are now listening as the countries discuss the G77 proposal and add or subtract language, contest language, ect. This goes on until a final agreement is reached. Understand though that this happens without Indigenous Peoples except when we are asked to participate by the countries, at this time the chosen representative from the IP Caucus will then submit and talk about our consensus language to SBSTA.

There are several times when the IP Caucus is asked to speak on the floor of the UN, we self -select our speaker and the main points we need to articulate. Sometimes this is agreed upon language even for a speech.

(Roberto and Lakpa representing the IP Caucus in the SBSTA meetings)

I hope you are still with me. It’s a lot to explain and its over complex when at times it probably doesn’t need to be. However, not everyone across the global makes decisions the same, or speaks the same languages. The UN may seem as though it is complex and these are really simple issues, but it is a starting place that everyone has agreed upon in terms of official languages, and processes. This can appear on the outside as the UN is super iceberg slow, however these things take time to get to a point of agreement.

This is where things are right now. We are working to support the language moving forward. What does this mean. Well the IP Caucus now has a position. However, this process was articulated by a member of the Caucus and we all agreed to 7 main principles that the states/parties should agree upon. We decided to throw out the language and move forward with the respected member of the Caucus’ articulation. This position will be read during the SBSTA meetings by our appointed representative. Then we will work on lobbying countries on our position as they negotiate, so our 7 principles get included by the states/countries.

Some of the 7 principles are (not in UN language):

  • Co-facilitators will be self-selected by Indigenous Peoples and by states with equal standing;

  • Indigenous Peoples will have full effective standing;

  • The Platform will have a programme of work and not be a web-site;

  • That there will be resources for the full effective participation in the platform and its programme of work;

  • That the platform will be gender balanced;

  • The Platform will inform on decisions;

  • And Indigenous Peoples will self-select those that will participate.

I’m sure I’m probably missing something there. But this gives you a general idea. Countries have debated the purpose, the structure, and the next steps for the platform. Things get interesting when you watch the negotiations. You get to see the subtleness of the negotiators. Many times countries will be in the room negotiating that have diverging interests back home. For example, many times when Indigenous Peoples are moving language on something Indigenous specific countries will be negotiating that don’t recognize their own Indigenous Peoples, or have enacted genocidal tactics on their Indigenous Peoples. It is never outright said. Other times you can see the power blocks of countries working together and strategizing. Like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, United States and EU. Sometime they partner up with Nordic countries like Norway, Finland, ect. Or like today where the G77 came with a negotiated proposal.

I’ve had the chance to sit in on meetings with the US negotiator. Which of course if off the record. We have these meetings with lead negotiators to lobby our positions, both about IP Caucus work and any domestic issues we might be bringing to the table. Basically, we can approach the negotiators of a country and ask for meeting. Or approach their offices to set up a meeting as most countries have offices here while they participate at the UNFCCC. It can be intimidating but really all you have to do is ask.

It is the discussions that people often need to be careful and the negotiators will word things very carefully. As they do will in the meetings. It often sounds like people are saying a lot of words but meaning very little. In short it’s a delicate process. Some people love these types of spaces, some suggest it’s like a game. Others detest it as people sometimes don’t come across as genuine. For many negotiators this is their job. The US Negotiator we met has worked on China/US trade deals and the US/EU trade deals. She talked about the strategy of the “middle ground” in creating a place to begin working from. Especially when countries are politically polar opposites. Which I thought was interesting food for thought.

(The above photograph is of IEN negotiator Alberto Saldamando and Dallas Goldtooth with the US Negotiator Holly Kirking Loomis)

The other thing to think about, is that within the UN system agreements build upon each other over time. As we make headway within one area of the UN system, this can apply to others. For example, the Platform could be like the Working Group on Indigenous Issues that used to exist under the United Nations Economic and Social Council or ECOSOC. We can make comparisons to these type of bodies because they have been done before. We reference other standing UN documents, and agreements that uphold Indigenous Rights because they set a precedence. Then we can continue to build stronger and strong rights based work within the UN system. A good example is the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples UNDRIP which took over 15 years to be finished and ratified by governments (not all of course but enough for it to have standing). It gives us a place to build from globally. UNDRIP provides protection for Indigenous Peoples too who live in countries that don’t recognize their rights or that they even exist. Which in Canada we have federal recognition and section 35 rights, I could go on but I won’t.

All in all, it has taken the IP Caucus a week to develop a position on the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform. Sometimes this is what happens. Things take longer than we anticipate. But now that we have an agreed set of principles for the platform, we can begin lobbying the countries. So I’ll let you know what happens. In future blogs!

(IP Caucus meeting today)

(Roberto reading our 7 principles to SBSTA on behalf of the IP Caucus)

I did forget one thing to mention briefly, is that I got the opportunity to sit in on the Canadian Delegation briefing. What is that, you might ask? The Canadian delegation takes time out to brief Canadian NGO’s or organizations on their work during the UNFCCC. They may take questions, input and lobbying points from the present organizations. In this particular briefing they talked about a few articles that they are working on, updated on the platform work and asked for questions. You can see this in the Instagram vid below.

During the UNFCCC are a ton of side events. These happen inside the government zone and outside in the "civil society" space or NGO space (NGO meaning Non-governmental organization). I got invited to the Rainforest Action Network's release side event on Coal Financing. Below is a picture from that event. There are side events every day during the meetings, on a variety of topics. So if negotiations and observing are not your thing than there is plenty of opportunity to network, learn and participate through side events.

Usually civil society organize mass mobilizations, marches and direct actions together during these events. This provides a voice to those that aren't recognized, or can't participate at the UNFCCC. Many people don't believe in the UN or its ability to respond to climate change. ICA is believer in our own people, thats not to say we don't value other methods like the UN but we know the answers are in our communities because of our sacred connection to the earth.

One of the actions that happened was last weekend. There are massive coal mines in Germany. Ende Gelende is a German social movement determined to shut down coal mines. This weekend activists from across the globe marched to the Rhineland coal mine and hundreds deployed into the mine to shut it down. Others remained in solidarity outside supporting.

Those that went into the mine stayed for as long as they could. Many got beat up by police and pepper sprayed. Over 4500 people participated in the march and action. This action was key to elevate Germany's role the climate crisis. Germany is the biggest emitter in the EU or Europe. There are daily tours to the mine at 9am & 2pm from the Bula Zone at the UNFCCC. I've been out to these mines before in 2015 at the first actions. It is worth it to see it for yourself. Check out this hashtag on twitter for more info: #coalcop23

I almost forgot, the plan for reclamation for these mines are to fill with water over the next 100 years. Then to sell properties around the "lake," as vacation properties. Imagine the impacts on the wells, aquifers, and land around the mines!!! The craziness of resource extraction is certainly global.

Here is an article from the Guardian on the action:


We went on a tour after the march of the Hambacher Forest. Only 10% of the forest is left, which is about 12, 000 years old. I found out the first time I visited the Hambacher Forest that Germany used to be made up of Tribal peoples. The land was covered in forests. The Tribes had a deep reverence for the forest as a sacred living being. They had laws to protect the forest such as only felled trees were allowed to be taken by the people. No live tree cutting was allowed.

(This is where you can see the road and forest ending to the coal mine. I didn't take a lot of pictures as we didn't want to expose the work of the forest protectors, but if you get a chance to go to the Humbacher Forest take it. It's a very special place.)

Ironic that so many years later it is a small group of people that live full time in the forest to protect it. There have been many raids over the years to take out the protectors. Their strategy is to occupy the trees and land so that the coal company cannot log and destroy the forest for the coal mining.

Which is eating the surrounding towns. The company RWE buys the towns, property by property. Then moves the occupants to a new replicated town. They even move their dead in the cemeteries. It leaves behind ghost towns. I got a chance to walk through them. It is like the people left the day before.

On November 22nd, the forest protectors expect that RWE will come to begin logging. Cutting season lasts from October to February. They are calling for people to join them in the forest. Ironic too that this will be a few days after the #COP23 ends.

The other opportunity we had was to participate in the People Climate Summit. Which was held for the first few days of the #COP23. The goal is to provide an alternative space for sharing, learning and building social movement power. I got to participate in a debate with a local think-tank that supports a slower moving #coalphaseout for Germany. It was really fun.

I got the opportunity to represent ICA at the People's Climate Summit. Held outside of the UNFCCC for civil society or you know all of us regular people that can't get into UN meetings. One panel was on Just Transition and the other a critique of the US and Canadian Climate Policy. Which is also important, to be able to talk about what the Pan-Canadian Framework is missing to a global audience. We need stronger emissions goals, a phase out of fossil fuels and so much more. That's what we talked about on the panel. These were really great and organized by the Indigenous Environmental Network and the It Takes Roots delegation. Many thanks to them for the opportunity.


So that's all for now. I need to apologize for not updating sooner as this blog is ridiculously long. Please let me know if you have questions, comments, concerns. Be back soon!


©2020 by Indigenous Climate Action.