COP 26 - the climate negotiations that took place last month in Glasgow - brought a groundswell of engagement of Indigenous peoples and local communities. Indigenous peoples’ representatives were the second-largest civil society group present in Scotland, second only to the oil and gas lobby. Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) have always stewarded and sustainably managed their ancestral lands. The recognition and respect of their rights and knowledge in international climate agendas is crucial. And yet, the inclusion of their perspectives in climate negotiations has historically been limited.
So what progress was really made at COP 26, with so many Indigenous peoples and local community activists present? At UNDP’s Equator Initiative, we followed the negotiations closely and have gathered perspectives from the ground - with surprising insights!
Johnson Cerda, advisor to the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform, and the Director of the Dedicated Grant Mechanism Global Executing Agency at Conservation International, noted improvements in meaningful IPLC engagement at COP26. About 150 Indigenous representatives participated in plenary discussions with governments, side panels and roundtables, and unlike in other years, IPLCs had the opportunity to speak in the COP newsroom. In addition, the Indigenous peoples Pavilion - a physical space for IPLCs to program and manage - was inside the Blue Zone for the first time ever. And yet, there is still a long way to go before IPLCs can have a real, accessible, equitable and empowered role in climate negotiations: “We have knowledge and we want to contribute.”
So, what can Governments and Global Agencies do to support IPLCs?
First, governments and global institutions must step up their commitment to include IPLCs’ perspectives in climate actions and negotiations. Heylin Reyes, 2021 Equator Prize Winner and coordinator of the Association of Indigenous Women of the Cabécar Kábata Könana Territory in Costa Rica, and Javier Kinney, the manager of the Forest Carbon Project and member of the Yurok Tribe in California, call for more meaningful inclusion of IPLC professionals and women in climate negotiations. ‘Indigenous Diplomats’ need to be invited to negotiations to work alongside governments.
“We need to begin experimenting with a different world. This is our way of making an impact,” shared Heylin Reyes in the public virtual event "Voices of Truth, Voices of Hope: IPLCs report on COP26" co-organized by the Equator Initiative and Confluence Philanthropy. In bringing their first-hand experiences to COP26, IPLCs provided examples of nature-based climate solutions to donors, global agencies, and policymakers.
Second, there must be more financial support from governments and international donors to facilitate meaningful IPLC engagement at the global level. Johnson Cerda and Kimaren ole Riamit, Founder and Director of Indigenous Livelihoods Enhancement Partners (ILEPA, Kenya), explained that IPLC participation is still constrained by the lack of access to funding mechanisms for the cost of loss and damages from climate change, as well as for IPLCs’ participation in climate negotiations. More climate finance needs to be dedicated to Indigenous Peoples in easily accessible ways, regardless of what landscape they are in, be it forest, desert, mountains, or oceans.
Additionally, as IPLCs continue to advocate for their needs and priorities at the global level, it is important that they further participate in existing and new spaces of engagement for climate negotiations and actions. Johnson Cerda and the other experts from Indigenous peoples and local communities whom we spoke with, as well as Kimberly Todd, UNDP Climate and Forests Technical Specialist, suggested four important areas of further IPLC engagement in global climate talks:
- IPLCs can participate in finalizing elements for the functioning of international carbon markets under Article 6, including, for example, the shaping of “robust social and environmental safeguards” under the UNFCCC Article 6.4 mechanism. The Supervisory Body that will oversee the 6.4 mechanism is required to consider direct engagement with the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform and its Facilitative Working Group, making Article 6 an explicit and critical opportunity for participation of IPLCs.
- Indigenous peoples can join the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC), the caucus for Indigenous peoples participating in the UNFCCC, in preparing for future climate negotiations through its specific Working Groups.
- At the national level, IPLCs can look for spaces to engage with the government, such as roundtables or pre-negotiation conversations to discuss climate change and REDD+. These platforms are present in various countries including Ecuador, Guatemala, Peru, and others.
- Funding and learning opportunities are available for IPLCs to better engage at the global level, such as those mentioned in the IP Advocacy Course by Graeme Reed, the Indigenous Peoples at the UN Course and the Workbook on UNFCCC and IP organized by the UNDP and Tribal Link Foundation, or the CBD Voluntary Fund to facilitate IPLC engagement at the CBD.
As Kimaren ole Riamit reflected, Indigenous peoples are accepted as faithful stewards of nature. They come forth not as victims but as stewards who have distinguished themselves in having low carbon footprints, as part of the solution, and not part of the problem. It is time to ensure that IPLCs take center stage in climate solutions and sustainable development, aiming for more inclusivity and creating an impact for all. At COP 26, this realization was spelled out as clearly as never before - in this sense, the latest climate talks represented progress for IPLCs, even though there’s a long road ahead.