On October 31st, international leaders convened in Glasgow, UK for the 26th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26). For two weeks, global leaders met to “bring parties together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.” This summary of numerous reports has been prepared by Martin Mowforth for The Violence of Development website.
Indigenous Environmental Defenders Notably Absent from COP26 Discussions
On November 11th, the Guatemala Human Rights Committee (GHRC) posted a report as titled above. The following paragraphs give a few extracts from the report.
Current national commitments are far less than what is necessary for the world to limit temperature rise to less than 1.5oC, and despite the achievements of the conference, this will likely remain the case.
Where Are the Indigenous Defenders?
Prior to and throughout the conference, global human rights organisations and environmental defenders called out the clear absence of defenders from the conference’s discussion. Formal recognition of Indigenous knowledge has increased in recent years, with the Paris accords formally recognizing the importance of local and Indigenous knowledge in resolving the climate crisis, but Indigenous activists say that this recognition has not increased their influence in international negotiations. Eriel Deranger, the executive director of Indigenous Climate Action, noted that “Indigenous people are more visible but we’re not taken any more seriously; we’re romanticised and tokenised.” In fact, members of the Indigenous Future Collective—along with many other groups representing Indigenous peoples–could not gain full access and accreditation to participate in the COP26 process.
In contrast, 503 people with links to the fossil fuel industry were accredited for COP26. Maya K’iche’ human rights defender and journalist Andrea Ixchíu noted that Indigenous observers were not even allowed inside the rooms where the COP26 process took place. Instead, they were forced to watch the deliberations on a screen outside the room. Ixchíu called on COP26 to include Indigenous leaders “not just as observers, but as decision makers.”
Meanwhile, Indigenous defenders face deadly consequences for their work on the front lines of the fight to save the environment; defenders are not only excluded, but actively attacked. During the first week of COP26, Indigenous activists gathered to memorialize at least 1,005 environmental defenders who have been murdered since the signing of the Paris accords in 2016. Global Witness reported 227 murders of environmental defenders in 2020 alone, making it the deadliest year on record. With 13 recorded murders, Guatemala was the seventh deadliest country for land and environmental defenders in 2020 and the fourth deadliest per capita. The first draft of the Glasgow decision made no reference to the grave situation faced by environmental defenders.
Environmental defenders face threats and attacks on many levels, as seen recently in El Estor, Guatemala, where local resistance to a mining project that threatens Guatemala’s largest lake has been repeatedly met with violence and human rights violations. As resistance to the mine continues and the community faces a state of siege, the Convergence for Human Rights, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and GHRC, among others, have denounced excessive use of force and violence by state forces and the targeting of land defenders through raids and illegal detention.
Another example–the criminalization of Bernardo Caal–further conveys the threats faced by land defenders in Guatemala. Caal served as a leader against the OXEC hydroelectric project since 2015, which destroyed 15 hectares of forest and three sacred hills and restricted access to two sacred rivers where Q’eqchi’ people have fished and bathed for generations. Bernardo Caal was sentenced to seven years and four months in prison in 2018 on spurious charges, and remains incarcerated; his recent appeal was denied. …
Dangers of the Same Old Solutions
Human rights organisations and environmental defenders have also emphasized the dangers of solutions that rely on the same mechanisms that created the climate crisis. A statement signed by over 250 international organisations denounced ‘nature-based solutions’ to climate change as a threat to the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples. While often promoted by major corporations as a means of achieving net zero emissions, these strategies, the letter warned, will lead to the privatization of natural spaces, monoculture, and the further dispossession of Indigenous peoples. …
In Guatemala, we’ve seen that investment in ‘green’ projects often has the same destructive consequences on Indigenous territory as extractive industries like mining or logging. For example, during Guatemala’s internal conflict, the Guatemalan government received funding from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank to construct a hydroelectric dam on the Chixoy River. Over the course of the project, 444 Maya-Achí inhabitants of the region were massacred. The legacy continues, as evidenced by the case of the community of Laguna Larga where 111 families were evicted to make space for a proposed carbon credit project. Four years later, the community continues to live in deplorable conditions without access to basic human rights like health, water, and housing.
In a report released on October 27, the PRISMA Foundation warned against the reliance on large-scale investment in green development and the danger of excluding Indigenous communities. The World Resources Institute indicated the importance of protecting Indigenous land rights. Indigenous lands hold an estimated 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity, and research found that securing Indigenous and Afro-descendant land tenure in South America reduced deforestation by 30-75 percent, but the group noted that Indigenous communities receive only a small portion of the funding directed to Indigenous land management. The report concluded with a call for a bottom-up approach to climate funding.
Indigenous Communities As ‘Living Solutions’ to the Climate Crisis
In an open letter, international human rights groups called on COP26 and the UK government to address the climate emergency in partnership with environmental human rights defenders. According to Susi Bascon, Director of Peace Brigades International UK, “The knowledge, perception, and invaluable experience of environmental human rights defenders can no longer be ignored by any State that wishes to fully implement the Paris Agreement and avoid climate breakdown, ecological collapse, and escalating social inequality. Partnering with them is a must.”
Ending the criminalization of defenders and securing the access of Indigenous communities to their ancestral lands is an indispensable step towards fighting the climate crisis and preserving natural resources. According to Andrea Ixchíu, Indigenous communities are ‘living solutions’ to climate change and the only way to address the crisis is to “see what Indigenous communities have been doing for thousands of years.”
Central American Countries Seek Aid To Fight Climate Change
Published 3 November 2021
The following report relating to the position of Central American countries on the Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP26) was published in the Telesur Newsletter on 3rd November this year. Their terms and conditions allow us to reproduce the article here, for which we are grateful to Telesur. The piece was written at the beginning of COP26 and uses the future tense regarding the conference. We have left the article as it was written including its use of the future tense.
The countries of the Central American Integration System (SICA) will present a ‘unified position’ at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP26) in order to raise more strongly their requests for international assistance.
In its capacity as temporary president of the Central American Commission for Environment and Development (CCAD), Guatemala will propose that COP26 declare Central America as one of the regions most vulnerable to climate change.
Although the Central American nations only generate 0.35 per cent of CO2 emissions, they have been severely affected by hurricanes, floods and other extreme weather events, Guatemala’s Environment Minister Mario Rojas said. …
The people most vulnerable to natural disasters reside precisely in rural areas, where ecological deterioration further aggravates the impacts of global climate change. In Central America, high levels of deforestation make extreme weather events more easily turn into disasters, which greatly affects the levels of poverty and malnutrition, said Piedad Martin, the regional director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Since the beginning of the 21st century, Guatemala has lost almost 25 percent of its forests and over 25 percent of its watersheds have been polluted. While up to 80,000 hectares of native forests are lost in Honduras every year, only 3 percent of Salvadoran forests are still intact. …
Currently, SICA comprises Belize, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. These countries will also demand urgent international financing mechanisms to combat the effects of climate change in their territories.
Belize’s delegation to COP26
The Government of Belize (GOB) sent a 30 person delegation to the recent COP26 conference in Glasgow.
The Public Service Union (PSU) of Belize questioned why so many people were included in the delegation given that the watchwords of the government have included ‘austerity’, ‘sacrifice’ and ‘management of financial resources’. They further questioned why it had not been possible for some of the delegation to attend remotely in order to save costs.
In response, the Prime Minister John Briceño pointed out that the conference directly involved several ministries including the Ministries of Sustainable Development, the Blue Economy, the Attorney General, Finance and Foreign Affairs. He also noted that funding for the delegation’s visit to Glasgow would come from the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre which has its headquarters in Belize as well as from the conference itself.
The PSU, however, is clearly suspicious of the funding and said that it “expects FULL transparency from the GOB with the publication of the total cost incurred by the GOB, inclusive of airfare, hotel accommodations and daily costs. This would offer ALL Belizeans a better picture of what taxpayer dollars are being allocated to.”
The PSU also mentioned the decision to cut salaries by 10 per cent and reminded the GOB that the spending should go towards the betterment of the country. Moreover, the GOB’s promises of austerity, accountability and transparency should be kept.
Marine Reserves Pooled at COP26
Along with Ecuador and Colombia, the Central American countries of Panama and Costa Rica agreed at COP26 to join their marine reserves to form one interconnected area that will serve as one of the world’s richest pockets of ocean biodiversity. It will be a fishing-free corridor covering more than 500,000 square km, in one of the world’s most important migratory routes for many species.
“It will be a living laboratory to carry out scientific research,” said Guillermo Lasso (President of Ecuador) at a COP26 press conference. “We are currently reviewing proposals to fund the new MPA in Galapagos with a debt-for-nature swap. It will be the biggest one ever. But we’ll be careful on how we carry it out to maximise the environmental benefits for the marine reserve.”
Panama’s youthful COP26 delegation
On 10 November 2021, Ciara Nugent of Time Magazine wrote an article entitled ‘The Youngest Negotiating Team at COP26 has a Message for Other Countries’. A few brief extracts are included here.
When Juan Carlos Monterrey Gómez went to his first round of U.N. climate negotiations as part of Panama’s delegation in 2015, his colleagues told him not to talk about his age, in case it made other countries’ representatives take him less seriously. At the time, he was just 22. Now, aged 29 and the lead negotiator for Panama at COP26 in Glasgow, he won’t shut up about it. … “I want it to make the other negotiators uncomfortable. They need to remember that it’s our generation and younger generations that will be most impacted [by their decisions.]”
Panama claims that its negotiating team at COP26, comprising some 15 people with an average age of 29, is the youngest ever to represent a country at a U.N. climate summit. …
In a series of protests around the COP26 site over the last week, youth climate activists have warned that politicians at the summit are too focused on emissions targets that are decades away, and not enough on taking action to cut them in the next few months and years. “The voices of future generations are drowning in their greenwash and empty words and promises,” 18-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, told a crowd gathered at George Square in central Glasgow on Friday.
… The key to accelerating action in the U.N. climate process, Monterrey Gómez says, is to give more space in the talks to young people, who are going to experience worse climate change impacts for longer than older people. “If other countries gave young people the mic like Panama is doing,” Monterrey Gómez says, “we’d solve this in a few minutes.”