This article is written by Tatiana Rinke.
The Thirteenth Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (which was held May 12-23th in New York City) was certainly a very interesting cultural event. Traditional instruments from New Zealand were being played during the Opening Ceremony, a market with indigenous craft was organized within the building of the UN and numerous other displays of the 1,500 indigenous participants’ diversity took place. But was this Permanent Forum, first established in 2000, able to tackle the real issues concerning indigenous peoples? Of course, no one can deny that good governance – the special theme of the 2014 session – is a key point in better recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights. However, one could wonder if other topics could be more pressing?
Small changes can have big consequences for them
Ban-Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the UN, stated in his opening speech that « one vital area of focus [regarding indigenous peoples] is climate change ». He even recognized « the central role of indigenous peoples in meeting the climate challenge » as « traditional knowledge and practices of indigenous peoples can help to close the emissions gap and lead us onto a more sustainable path ». Indeed, indigenous peoples are the first ones to be concerned when it comes to issues related to changing environmental conditions. Their way of life is based on using the resources available in the ecosystem they inhabit. Even small changes can alter their standard of life and compel them to migrate to more urban areas and thus abandon a big part of their cultural identity. At the same time, their connection to these ecosystems enables them to have a deep knowledge of how to predict and adapt to the effects of climate change. Some indigenous communities already had to adapt to changing climatic conditions in the past… and have been successful. However, the topic of climate change was only addressed in a very marginalized way during the debates, merely being mentioned among other issues indigenous peoples had to face.
Of course, one could argue that the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues may not be the most adequate stage to discuss the inclusion of indigenous peoples in the international efforts against climate change. Indigenous peoples, unfortunately, are not being specifically recognized as victims of climate change in important documents such as the UNFCCC or the Kyoto Protocol. They even had to wait until 2007 and the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC to be mentioned in any relevant publication on climate change. Therefore, the priority should be to focus on including indigenous peoples in international negotiations on climate change and how they could best share their knowledge with the scientific community. However, in order to be included in these negotiations, indigenous peoples need to stand as one. They need to be clear about what it is they expect from the international community and under which circumstances they are willing to share their know-how. For this, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is the best stage… if only the focus would shift a little more on this topic we need to adress right now.
All the statements and documents produced during the Thirteenth Session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues can be found here.
About the author: Tatiana Rinke holds a master in Environmental Policy from SciencesPo Paris and is currently working as a consultant in sustainable development, ethics and diversity in Paris. She has been part of CliMates since 2011, first as a member of the German delegation and now as the co-coordinator of the « Indigenous Rights »-research group. She has worked for the International Organization for Migration in Mexico as well as for the UNESCO in Paris where she interned at the section for Indigenous Rights and Small Island States.