• Indigenous Climate Action

Wrap up of the ICA at the UNFCCC in Bonn, Germany!

It’s been about five days since the official closing of the UNFCCC #COP23. I initially wanted to post a closing or wrap up as I was leaving but realizing that everyone and all the major new networks are doing that. I didn’t think that made sense. I think I really wanted to make some time to get home and be home. Centered and thoughtful about this last round-up of #COP23 thoughts.

As always these meetings are site of power and privilege, the cost to travel and participate, the accreditation process, the narrow confines of participation itself and so much more. It’s a privilege but also a real challenge to be at #COP23. I say that because, as said before; many of the countries negotiating our futures as global citizens and Indigenous Peoples do so without our consent or participation. Not to mention at this level everyone gets along and no one admits the genocidal acts that are happening to our people or have happened historically. It’s the strangest song and dance by the countries patting themselves on the back. Including Canada.

(Waiting for the final closing plenary to happen at 1am in the morning. We couldn't stay for the closing as we were leaving at 5am!)

Sound harsh? Perhaps to some. Most folks who understand Indigenous rights and colonization understand that for us here in the confines of Canada, have had only liberal or conservative governments since the beginning of this country. Neither has ever kept its word and honored the treaties.

I think with this understanding, I have “lowered expectations.” In terms of what I think the abilities of this current government to meet our demands, and even basic human rights. Thinking about the 130 reserves without drinkable water. Or the constant housing crisis in many northern communities. Not to mention the constant suicide epidemics hitting our communities. Or how many have gone missing regardless of gender. Incarceration rates. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture.

Trust is backed up by action. You know, “actions speak louder than words.” This year many of the Aboriginal or Indigenous national organizations like the Assembly of First Nations, Native Women’s Association, Metis National Council, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, ect all had Canadian Government accreditation. So did many of the non-Indigenous organizations that participated this year. I actually didn’t meet anyone from Canada that didn’t have Canadian government accreditation.

The reason I bring this up, is it’s critical that we pressure the Canadian government to do a better job. To uphold Indigenous Rights, implement UNDRIP, ect. To that end, implement a stronger Pan-Canadian Framework, the National Determined Contribution that the Paris Agreement requires governments to report on every five years as a signatory. Currently in terms of emissions targets, they are no different from this new government to Harpers. The biggest difference is the adaptation and mitigation planning. Which translates to a couple things, a big plan that includes a number of different approaches clean technology, renewable energy, carbon taxation, carbon markets, ect. Secondly, a coal phase out by 2030. All of these things Canada is supposed to be doing. As a signatory to the Kyoto protocol in 2002, we did move on several initiatives to fight emissions.

“Canada was active in the negotiations that led to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, and the Liberal government that signed the accord in 1997 also ratified it in parliament in 2002.”- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canada_and_the_Kyoto_Protocol

However, by 2011 Canada pulled out of the Kyoto protocol because we couldn’t meet our emissions requirements,

“Canada officially withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol in December 2011. Announced by then-Environment Minister Peter Kent, he cited that the government would save $14 billion in penalties by pulling out of the agreement.”

What they (Canada) aren’t doing is addressing the elephant in the room aka the largest human development project on earth- the tar sands development within the Pan-Canadian Framework. The only reference talks about the industry making leaps and bounds in developing cleaner technology. Without a moratorium on new projects and a phase out of oil, gas, and tar sands projects we will never meet our emissions targets. That’s a big glaring hole that no one from Canada was talking about. Not one person. That’s problematic.

I want to be clear, even though we see ourselves as Nations, not as domesticated governments within a State. Indigenous Nationhood. Yet at this level, Indigenous Peoples are left out of the negotiations. Even the official National Indigenous Organizations don’t have a say in Canadian government negotiations. They can inform, consult, lobby but little else. The State of Canada has the final say.

The reason I want to be clear about this is because all the media about Canada has shed this light that Canada is in a new place in terms of its relationship to its First Peoples. We on the ground know that this in not entirely true. All we have to do is look around. I think Art Manuel articulates very clearly,

“Our impoverishment is a big part of the crippling oppression Indigenous Peoples suffer under the existing Canadian colonial system. This 0.2 percent systemic impoverishment is used as weapon by Canada to keep us too poor and weak to fight back. It is used to bribe and co-opt Indigenous leadership into becoming neo-colonial partners to treat the symptoms of poverty on the Indian reserve without addressing the root cause of the problem, which is the dispossession of all the Indigenous Peoples territory by Canada and the provinces.” (Derrickson & Manual. 2017 p. 26)

When we talk strategy, the international arena including the UN system is a part of that. Many time’s our strategies and goals are about holding the Canadian government to account. Using the international spotlight and global media attending these meetings as a way to highlight the inequities facing our people at home. No state or country likes to be embarrassed internationally. Often times this tactic has worked.

Sometimes the strategy is about participation. Opening up doors and the ability to bring human rights violations and inequities to the surface. The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples wouldn’t exist without the participation of Indigenous Peoples at the UN level. However, it took 15 years to get a draft document. Participation at this level can be ice-burg slow. As you can see throughout the #COP23 negotiations as we met late into the night going the through proposed text line by line, word by word.

Part of me questioned the strategy of the IP Caucus to center all of its time and capacity on SBSTA 47 Agenda Item #13 Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform. This is a major proposal for sure but there is also a whole document being negotiated by the various structures in the UNFCCC at the same time the Platform was being negotiated. Finance, mitigation, and so much more is on the table right now. It’s hard at this stage to be able to foresee the impacts on our lands, rights and bodies that the implementation of the Paris Agreement will have.

I understand the strategy though, if we could get the best-case scenario then the platform could inform all the of the decisions that the UNFCCC makes that impact our rights and Indigenous Knowledge. However, at this stage we don’t have clear answers. We have a draft text that seriously narrows our ability to utilize the process to negotiate, in the implementation of the platform. I hope this makes sense. We have an agreement via the draft text to keep moving forward, but governments have restricted the breadth of that ability-for now.

A good example of this is in the preamble section of the draft text:

The Conference of the Parties,

Recalling the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,

decision 1/CP.21 and the Paris Agreement,

Acknowledging that Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities,”

UNDRIP is acknowledged in this draft text, but notice the careful wording in the next line. Parties (meaning countries/states) “Should,” and “consider.” These words legally are not that strong, they don’t obligate or legally bind any of the countries to do anything really. It’s a weak statement. However, Norway did fight to keep UNDRIP recognized in its entirety within the draft text. That’s important. Not to allow countries to take steps backwards in regards to Indigenous rights. Does it ever in any of the references in the Paris Agreement, the platform draft text or any other document talk about “giving”or upholding Indigenous rights in their full standing? Or Nationhood? No. I would not expect that could happen at this time. Since it is beneficial for many countries to occupy our lands and use legislation to keep their title to the lands. Some states don't do that at all they just take the land by any means necessary.

(Roberto Borrero, Programs and Communications Coordinator at the International Indian Treaty Council Gives us a briefing on the last few days of #COP23, the ongoing visits to the Indigenous Peoples Caucus from dignitaries, and what’s next for Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform)

On a side note though, the Holy See aka the Vatican has Nationhood status at the UN level. If you look around the room at the UN headquarters in New York or in Switzerland, there is a seat and plaque with their name on it. We don’t. Isn't that ironic?

We did get a mention twice as Indigenous Peoples in the Gender Action Plan or GAP. This was a goal of #COP23 to have a draft text as an outcome as well. You can read the final text here:


The one thing the states said over and over, is they talked about the special role Indigenous Peoples play, the knowledge that we have and how important it is to continue to work with our communities. This is key. We need to hold these states to account for these statements. That includes Canada.

I think my frustration was watching Canada continually lead the negotiations while working with their usual friends: Australia, New Zealand, the EU, the United States. Literally taking the lead and the others would back each other up. One good example is the first proposal that Canada made, to move the platform outside of the UNFCCC structure. It was unnecessary, especially as country that “works” well with its Indigenous populations. It’s one of the many things Canada prides itself on at the UN level. If that was really the case, then I think Canada should’ve worked for a stronger more balanced approach continually consulting with the IP Caucus not just the National Indigenous Political organizations on its own delegation; to put forward proposals that we were lobbying for. Which of course is not the case. Canada continues to negotiate its own best interests.

Moving on I wanted to include the following link that was sent out through the Indigenous Peoples Caucus list serve. I think it gives really good back ground on the UNFCCC historical process and clear updates on the other moving parts I wasn’t able to report back on during #COP23. http://enb.iisd.org/download/pdf/enb12714e.pdf It’s a bit of a read, for history read the first section. It’s very accurate and easy to understand. For a summary of #COP23 outcomes the best section to read starts on page 30 called “A Brief Analysis of the Fiji/Bonn Climate Conference.”

Side note: If you want to be engaged at this level, its going to be really important to be present. Be an active and engaged listener. Since most of the time as Indigenous delegates are observers with limited intervention abilities. Be super patient as these meetings can drag out days, even years. Be willing to read document upon document so you have a clear understanding of who SBSTA is for example, or to keep up on the list-serve with new developments that the IP Caucus is working on. Being email available 24/7 is definitely a plus at these types of meetings. Be able to fight it out with each other and still remain friends. Disagree and be okay with that. Uphold the mandate that you are given from people back home. Sometimes that means there is a no return point, meaning you can't negotiate on somethings. Your communities or peoples won't settle for less. Accountability is really important at this level. Everyone in the room either works for a community, network or larger organization that has empowered them to speak on their behalf with very clear instructions. Thats important. Not many participate at this level as individuals and it doesn't make sense. Oh, and be able to keep going on next to no sleep!

Food for thought, there is a lot of work yet to be done. Both at home and globally if we really are going to stop the climate crisis that faces us. We all know that these UN processes take time. Time that small island states, equator countries, and arctic peoples don’t have. That’s the harsh reality. This doesn’t include places that continually are hit by epic storms, hurricanes ect. As an Indigenous person, this doesn’t include all our non-human relatives, the ones we were told to take care of in our creation stories. It would seem at this level all humanity cares about is its ability to continue to make money/profit while trying to serve its own best interests. That’s pretty sad.

Many people in Canada don’t have to face the daily realities of the climate crisis, particularly in the south part of the country. We will see more climate refugees, epic storms, heatwaves, forest fires, less cold weather, loss of species, yet many Canadians won’t become active until these issues affect their lives directly. Through the shortage of drinkable water, and access to food. Access to power, ect. The rising cost of living. The Pan-Canadian Framework only looks inward, it doesn’t take stock on the impacts we have on developing countries, those most impacted globally, or truly prepare our communities to adapt.

Moving forward, I think that is why I truly appreciate ICA’s take on things, working to ensure that Indigenous Peoples across the country can access the information needed to make decisions, develop plans and prepare. That we are sharing what we learn, and building solutions that can be modeled for other communities. ICA understands why having a voice at the UN level may be necessary as ICA is seeking to represent those not heard through the national processes in place currently. We haven’t made a concrete decision on the how we value the UNFCCC process and others in our work, it’s an ongoing discussion. However, what is truly clear is that we do have a responsibility not only to the relationship bestowed upon us in our creation stories but as global keepers of bio-diversity, ancient knowledge practitioners and keepers of our way of life; to work together with global like-minded alliances, other Indigenous Peoples and any other group willing to continue to fight for climate justice and continue to build community based solutions.


©2020 by Indigenous Climate Action.