World leaders should learn from the indigenous peoples

A system change is required to reduce climate change. We must move away from unbridled consumption and towards a society in harmony with nature. Here, the government can learn from the indigenous movement, says the debater Carmen Blanco Valer.

For several decades now, our planet has been suffering from extreme shifts in weather conditions, with an increasing number of climate disasters as a result. Among those whose lives are severely affected by climate change are many of the 370 million people that the UN recognizes as indigenous peoples. That is, populations with strong ties to specific territories where they lived long before the current nation states were formed.

In these territories, indigenous peoples have developed specific forms of life that include sustainable production methods such as organic farming methods, care of tropical forests and wetlands, game management and more. These lifestyles have in turn resulted in holistic perspectives on nature as an all-encompassing Mother Earth where everything is in a mutual relationship with each other and which must be respected.

Colonial invasions have displaced indigenous peoples

Over the centuries, colonial invasions have displaced indigenous peoples to increasingly limited territories in hard-to-cultivate land and fragile ecosystems. In recent decades, environmentally harmful activities such as mining, oil and gas exploitation, fracking and large-scale industrial agriculture have also encroached on their land.

Today's increasing extreme climate change threatens to exterminate certain peoples either through natural disasters or by forcing them to flee their territories as their traditional way of life is put out of play. Then they risk being transformed into national minorities. At the 2007 Bali Climate Summit (COP13), the UN Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that indigenous peoples in the Andes, tropical rainforests, savannas and areas around the North and South Poles will be particularly hard hit by climate change because they live in climate-vulnerable ecosystems.

Not helpless victims

But indigenous peoples are not helpless victims. Since the end of the 1980s, they have fought to become active political actors, not least in climate contexts. There, the international recognition of the UN Convention ILO 169 has been important. This is a binding legal instrument that gives indigenous peoples collective legal protection and status within a nation state, but which Sweden has delayed signing since the beginning of 1990.

ILO 169 states, among other things, that indigenous peoples must be informed and consulted before they take a stand without pressure on activities and investments that risk affecting the environment in their territories. But the signing of ILO 169 is only a formal recognition and many of the signatory states do not fulfill what they promised - then they must be put under pressure through, for example, mass mobilizations.

Violations from "green" activities

In the shadow of the climate crisis, violations of territories and indigenous peoples are also taking place today under the guise of "green" activities. This is the case with hydropower plants, biofuel plantations, wind turbines and more. This has put strain on their low-energy lifestyles and traditional industries and in some cases has led to forced relocations.

In connection with the climate crisis, further forms of "ecocolonialism" have emerged. Many with links to the "green economy's" market-based solutions to climate problems. One of these is REDD, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation. Its intention is said to be to prevent increased emissions of carbon dioxide from deforestation and deforestation by paying actors in rich countries to leave forests untouched.

But REDD has in practice been used to take control of the rainforest and prevent indigenous peoples and smallholders from using forests in sustainable traditional ways. The social, economic and cultural rights of indigenous peoples and smallholders are violated when they are forced to stop small-scale farming in the forest, hunting, fishing, berry and mushroom picking, collecting medicinal plants and more.

Therefore, more and more indigenous organizations and smallholder organizations are critical of "climate solutions" based on market logic that do not solve the basic problem, that is, the fossil fuel dependence of the system, the growth zeal of capitalism and the rampant consumption. While counterfeit solutions are being tested, the industrialized and high-consumption groups in the world continue to support the extraction of fossil fuels and their use. Mother Earth's fever is rising and COP meetings are mainly occasions when world leaders state the feverish condition without wanting to stop the causes of the fever.

Requires investment in small farms

As an alternative to the climate crisis, indigenous peoples, small farmers and farm workers have demanded a conscious investment in small-scale agriculture. This provides us with food, is low-energy, provides jobs and cools the planet as it binds carbon dioxide. In order to achieve food sovereignty and energy sovereignty, countries must invest in becoming self-sufficient in locally produced food production as well as energy supply through small-scale sustainable energy facilities.

The popular movements in Latin America have also presented proposals for other measures to secure the planet's future. During the People's Climate Conference in Cochabamba, Bolivia in 2010, one of the key proposals was to provide the planet with legal protection. This is expressed in the Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, a proposal that the Bolivian government presented to the UN.

Wants to set up climate tribunals

Another proposal was to set up Climate Tribunals which, like the International Tribunals that rule on war crimes, could hold companies that commit environmental and climate crimes accountable and possibly convict them of "ecocide" or environmental killings. In addition to these proposals, there was also a worldwide referendum on the climate. Something that would be educational, counteract the democratic deficit that characterizes the COP meetings and engage people behind climate goals.

All of these proposals require fundamental changes to today's systems and challenge us to think about other ways of organizing the world and the management of nature, including humans. The popular movements in the global south want to counteract climate change with system change. But the indigenous movement also wants to move away from systems where nature is seen only as a source of resources and away from the idea that development is synonymous with unstoppable material and economic growth. A paradigm shift that in the Latin American discussion goes by the name: The Society of the Good Life. A society based on harmony between people and nature.

The Swedish government should take these perspectives and show this by:
- To sign the UN Convention ILO 169 which gives the Sami people recognition.
- To work for the Rome Statute to be supplemented with the crime of environmental murder (ecocide).
- That aid and other resources be allocated to projects that make it easier for indigenous organizations and smallholders to develop climate change proposals.
- To generally pursue a line that emphasizes climate justice and change with popular influence.

Carmen Blanco Valer

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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