Thursday, October 16, 2008

Indigenous Rights and Climate Change

The role of indigenous and traditional knowledge in the battle against global warming is reaching mainstream significance in international debates on climate change.

Yesterday Norway promised to promote the rights of indigenous peoples in 3 billion Norwegian crowns investments to combat climate change and deforestation in tropical countries. The Minister for Environment, Erik Solheim (at left), has declared the need to recognise and respect the rights of indigenous peoples if efforts to halt deforestation are to succeed. However, he is reported as refusing to establish criteria to be fulfilled by governments when dealing with indigenous peoples' resources in mega-biodiverse regions. As reported in Reuters, at an international conference on indigenous rights and deforestation this week in Oslo, Rights, Forests and Climate Change, Solheim advocated a payment for ecosystems (PES) approach, saying “there is no absolute way to expect that people from Papua New Guinea, Ecuador, among others, will take the responsibility for climate, at the international level, without compensation. You cannot even create any National Park in Norway without indenmization of resident peoples."

However, he did not go as far as advocating robust criteria to regulate access to such knowledge and resources. He declared that while exercising as much influence as possible on governments, Norway would not seek to set pre-conditions on dealing with indigenous peoples in access agreements: "Dialogue is much more likely to succeed than a small nation on the outskirts of Europe ... running around the world setting conditions." In particular, Solheim noted Norway's own past treatment of the Saami people and considered attempts to preach to other nations would be considered inappropriate.

But Andy White, of the Washington-based Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), says more robust reviews of human rights are essential to avoid eviction of indigenous peoples where no formal rights to land are in recognised. Similarly, Adolphine Muley (at right), of the Union pour l'Émancipation de la Femme Autochtone, describes the lack of consultation for the pygmy people in Democratic Republic of Congo.

The role of the credit crunch in distracting attention from the issues should not be underestimated, with international concerns that messages on environmental climate change more broadly may be compromised by the current economic climate instead. But Solheim states, "There can be no excuse from the financial crisis not to solve the climate crisis. The climate crisis is bigger and deeper."

A new report, Climate Change: Financing Global Forests (the Eliasch Review) commissioned by the British government and published on Tuesday, estimated the costs of deforestation to be $1 trillion/year by 2100. Although the review estimates the costs to halve deforestation by 2030 to be $17-33 billion per year (based on global carbon trading), the long-term benefits could be quantified in the region of $3.7 trillion.

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