COP25 - Was it worth it? What did we do? Why is this an important moment?
This December, delegates with Indigenous Climate Action (ICA) attended the UN Forum Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP25 in Madrid, Spain. Our team work tirelessly to influence the global conversations while staying true to our values and beliefs that real climate solutions are rooted in Indigenous rights and come from front-line communities while also taking part in the Cumbre de los Pueblos and other civil society events to support the networks with other community groups who are building alternatives to the extractive systems of production and consumption, which have caused the climate emergency.
Originally set to take place in Santiago, Chile, but moved to Madrid after the people of Chile organized mass civil disobedience rising up against austerity and fascism under colonial Chilean governments. For more information from the perspective of Indigenous People in South America please visit Minga Indigena
This 25th gathering of global leaders was supposed to be a historic one. Since the development of the Paris Agreement in 2015 there has been a long standing struggle for inclusion of Indigenous peoples within the negotiations and in the development of tangible solutions to the climate emergency. Last year, at the COP24, the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform was formalized, granting Indigenous Peoples an opportunity to appoint representatives from the seven regions of the planet to negotiate technical advice for the implementation of the Paris Agreement. This is the first time that Indigenous peoples have had representation within a UN forum that allows our voices to heard in the negotiations. Initially, this COP was to be held in the global south, making the COP accessible to many Indigenous Peoples who have not had an opportunity to participate in the international climate negotiations because of financial and visa restrictions. There was also an unprecendented support for global south Indigenous credentials and represented in Chile. However, the move to Spain neutered these efforts and once again made it challenging for Indigenous peoples participation in a COP process.
This COP was supposed to reflect this critical time in the evolution of humanity where Indigenous voices play a leading role in determining the path forward to survive the present-day climate emergency. However, all of that shifted when the COP25 was moved to Madrid, Spain, one of the primary global colonizers, where Indigneous peoples, our rights and voices were muted daily under facism and racism. Instead of strong Indigneous presence we had strong corporate presence and a forum that attempted to drive a myriad of false solutions that would further marginalize Indigenous peoples, people of color and poor people of the planet.
This was my fourth COP as a North American Indigenous Caucus member with the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC), As someone who has been on the front-line of international advocacy for the rights of Indigenous peoples, I know that I must keep my heart and focus with the land defenders and water protectors. It is the people in communities - protecting wild salmon, resisting RCMP invasions, speaking our languages, and keeping our home fires lit - that are deeply impacted by false solutions and the status quo of colonialism and capitalism. It is the generations of people who have come before and who will be with us after. This was a main motive for ICA to bring a delegation of youth to the COP to understand how these international forums and civil society mobilizations can build intra-national networks across the globe, and why they are so important and integral to building the type of future we need to see.
ICA’s delegation was part of a larger group of Indigenous activists from networks like Indigenous Environmental Network, It Takes Roots, Grassroots Global Justice and the UN International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change.
What happened at the COP25?
Over 25,000 delegates came together to participate and witness this global gathering. The issues that were discussed, negotiated, argued and fought for were vast, but there were a few key issues that brought the whole gathering to its knees in an unprecedented overtime of two days of negotiations.
The primary issue being negotiated at this COP was Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. This article outlines a proposal for countries to mitigate and reduce their emissions through market and non-market solutions. However, the negotiations focused on market-based solutions such as carbon markets, offsets, and other capitalist initiatives that claim to reduce emissions, but do nothing to address the legacy of human and Indigenous rights abuses at the root of the climate emergency. During the negotiations, state negotiators themselves struggled with the viability of these proposed market- based solutions and whether or not the accounting for GHG emission reductions were fair and equitable to developing nations, who have historically contributed the least to climate change. Many states also spoke up noting that Article 6 could not address global inequity and made it impossible for an effective market mechanism to address rising emissions and catastrophic climate change. Ultimately, the lack of consensus on Article 6 brought the whole negotiations to a stalemate.
The reality in these international spaces, is that big polluters are grasping to maintain their positions of privilege, but as grassroots power continues to grow and interrupt their space, it is clear that their time is up. Much of the internal negotiations by state leaders are influenced by the advocacy and work of civil society participation at these high level meetings.
YOUTH IN ACTION
Portia Morin, Kalilah Rampanen, Nigel Henri Robinson and Ta’kaiya Blaney were part of the influences who helped to affect the outcomes of the global climate discussions. Without hesitation, ICA’s youth delegation confronted Canadian negotiators with clear words to demand that our rights are upheld and that non-market solutions are at the center of climate solutions for the future.
“As it stands, Article 6 is disproportionately focused on market-based climate solutions and lacks safeguards for human rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Carbon markets will further enable the colonial legacy of dispossession, privatization, violence against Indigenous women and girls, and destruction of Indigenous lands and culture for fossil fuel extraction. These extractive economies harm not only our communities but on the ecosystems that our Peoples have stewarded and relied on for generations.
We call upon the Government of Canada to act in accordance with its own laws and international obligations as signatories of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) to ensure that Article 6 respects human rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples. UNDRIP, Article 10, clearly defines your obligations to uphold Indigenous Peoples’ right to Free Prior and Informed Consent, a principle that must be reflected in all aspects of climate solutions coming out of the COP25.”
Along with other Indigenous youth delegates and allies, they co-organized multiple actions within the halls of the UN Conference, interrupting the politeness culture that tends to veil corruption and enable abusers to hold power in silence.
LAND BACK - Indigenous Sovereignty as Climate Solutions
Simultaneously, ICA’s delegation was asserting a new narrative within the calls for climate justice. ‘LAND BACK’ became known throughout international networks as Nigel, Portia, Ta’kaiya and Kalilah provided multiple workshops both inside the Indigenous Pavillion of COP25 and at the Cumbre Social Counter Summit organized by civil society groups.
“LAND BACK” was enthusiastically embraced as a phrase that reflects the importance of Indigenous sovereignty and control over territories as a critical part of the system changes necessary for real climate solutions - the phrase even made it as a central banner within the Climate Strike on December 6, inspiring other banners that read: “OCEANS BACK” and “FORESTS BACK.”
ICA’s delegation participated in numerous activities, both inside and outside of the UNFCCC process, including demonstrations, press conferences, lobby meetings and workshops.
ICA supported the launch of a new report by the Global Gas and Oil Network that examined the oil and gas industry’s expansion plans from 2020 to 2024 and found that if allowed to go ahead unchecked, these projects would lock in 148 gigatonnes of cumulative carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to 1200 new US coal-fired power plants. The report reveals 85 percent of the expanded production is slated to come from the United States and Canada.
I brought this issue back home by sharing my own experience and highlighting the push for the Teck Frontier Tar Sands Mine - the largest every proposed tar sands mine in Treaty 8.
As a representative with the IIPFCC, I also participated in press event hosted by Climate Action Network Canada: Indigenous Voices on #Fix Article 6, where Indigenous representatives from various regions of the world shared their experiences with false solutions and carbon markets and the need for non-market solutions that uphold and protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Long time ally and friends at WECAN, asked for my participation in a press event Women’s Earth and Climate Caucus: Women for Climate Justice on the Frontlines of Systemic Change, where women from across the globe shared experiences and the importance of empowering and holding women as leaders in the fight against climate change.
One of my favourite events to be a part of was on a webinar uniting people in Chile with civil society in Madrid, put together by It takes Roots and IEN. We discussed the root causes of climate change, including colonialism, capitalism and patriarchy, and helped deepen the narrative about the system changes that need to occur to ensure we have a planet to live on in the future.
Both myself and members of the ICA delegation were interviewed for numerous new outlets, including Democracy Now, APTN, Global Media to discuss why were at the COP and the issues as they unfolded. All in all it was a full and demanding schedule where the team tirelessly fought for our communities back home.
BRINGING IT HOME - REJECT TECK!
ICA put the “Think Globally, Act Locally” theory into action to send a clear message to the Canada government - they are being watched by a growing movement of Indigenous leaders who are done with the status quo of extractive economics.
To increase pressure on the Canadian government, we created this video to call in more people to take action and join the call to Reject Teck Frontier Mine.
At COP25 we organized a number of actions around the Teck Frontier Mine to highlight the hypocrisy of Canada, as the government claims to be a leader for Climate Action and Indigenous Rights, while also proposing the largest ever open-pit tar sands mine. The Teck Frontier Mine is Canada’s Carbon Bomb. It threatens to emit more than 6 megatons of GHGs annually, and paired with increasing methane release and feedback loops that are underway with melting Arctic ice, this mine would mean game over for the planet.
ICA was able to turn global attention to the Teck Frontier Mine and nurture international and local allies to speak up. Casey Camp, Elected Leader with the Ponoka Nation; Tom Goldtooth, Director of Indigenous Environmental Network; Francious Paulette, Elder of the Dene Nation; Elizabeth May of Green Party Canada; David Suzuki, environmental activist; and numerous Canadian ENGOs all spoke up on the call to Reject Teck.
Ta’kaiya Blaney, Portia Morin and Kalilah Rampanen made sure the message was heard loud and clear when they met with Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Jonathan Wilkinson. The ICA youth delegates did an incredible job of noting not only the risks that the Teck Frontier Mine poses for the planet, but also the links to other tar sands infrastructure projects, like the TMX Pipeline and Coastal GasLink.
PEOPLE POWER RISING
One of the most powerful moments outside of the COP25 space was the Friday’s for Future march on December 6, that was led by Indigenous peoples and those on the frontline of the struggle for climate justice. During the march the Indigenous peoples bloc struggled to maintain our position within the procession because of the intrepid racism that exist in a colonial state like Spain. However, this became an incredible moment at the end of the march when Indigenous peoples took over the main stage to read our own statements, sign our songs, and invite the world the witness the leaders of the climate movement.
While this moment was beautiful it wasn’t met with open arms. Instead, organizers of the event turned off the microphones and the lights as a way to silence our people, but we sang on, we chanted on and we stood our ground. All of this with the large LAND BACK banner overhead of us.
The first week of the COP ended up Indigenous peoples asserting our rights on stage at the mobilization and this sentiment continued to be reflected into week two. The final days of COP25 emphasized the fragility of big polluters as they struggled to maintain the status quo. State negotiators of numerous Island Nations united their voices with the calls from Indigenous groups and civil society against the expansion of any systems that leave out human rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples. It was clear that people were not going to stay quiet and allow for false solutions - like carbon markets - to be pawned off as strategies to solve the climate emergency.
People acknowledging the fact that 80% of the world’s intact biodiversity exists within Indigenous lands and territories, and this represents over 300 gigatons of carbon sinks on the planet. Opening up international carbon trading schemes would further push countries to privatize our lands and open them to international markets to allow for continued extraction and emissions in another part of the planet. The recent Emissions Gap Report has indicated that we are not reducing our global emissions, despite a growing push for carbon markets and trading highlighting that these new capitalist systems do little to reduce emissions and further increase harm to our peoples.
A major demonstration comprised of people from all parts of the planet erupted within the COP25. People were frustrated and unafraid in disrupting the negotiations from continuing on under the status quo.
Many have called the COP25 a failure, but in reality the people are rising and we are demanding real action, real solutions and real justice for people and the planet. We can no longer afford to repeat the same structural systems of colonization, predatory capitalism, white supremacy and extractivism. We need systems change not false solutions that maintain the status quo.
At ICA, we are proud and honoured to be part of this movement, while also acknowledging the ambitious work that is ahead if we are going to be effective for the systems change we need.
We have such gratitude for everyone in our network who shares values for decolonization and Indigenous rights as climate solutions.
Together we can do this.