Last week, the Indigenous Environmental Network held a press conference at COP21 in Paris. Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, said, “REDD and other carbon market regimes violate our traditional beliefs”.
The following is an edited transcript of the press conference, which included a short film:
Tom Goldtooth (IEN): One of the concerns that Indigenous Peoples in our network are worried about is the further implementation of what is called REDD. Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. It is one of the carbon market regimes that is within the Paris Accord document. And we have a concern that this is an instrument that will further cause the land grabs and human rights violation of our Indigenous Peoples.
But most concerning to us is the issue around the violation of our traditional cosmo-vision. So we’re going to talk about how REDD and other carbon market regimes violate the traditional beliefs, that we as Indigenous Peoples have. The sacredness.
How can you sell the air? How can you sell our trees in a climate capitalism system? That’s what we’re going to talk about.
Whenever you hear Indigenous Peoples speak, no matter where we come from, you hear us talk from our heart. You hear us talk about our relationship to the sacredness to the female principal of Mother Earth. We talk about the sacredness of all of nature, of life. That is our foundation. So that’s why we are very critical in our analysis of any solutions that are coming from the hallways of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Like I said in the film, and for this panel, this part of the information has not been provided here, as far as how it violates the sacredness of who we are and what we have to compromise to participate in these foriegn regimes of market systems.
How do we reconcile those traditional beliefs and how it tears at the fabric of our communities ripping us apart, causing us to fight against each other over money.
I’ve seen the people from the villages in the remote jungles, and they still have confusion about what this is.
Berenice Sánchez, Food Sovereignty Expert, Mexico: In this conference of the parties, they just talk about money, they don’t talk about real solutions to climate change. And REDD is not a solution to climate change. The only thing that REDD provokes is that instead of really changing the economic and productive system and capitalism itself, no that’s not talked about here, all they talk about is how to make more money and how to put a green mask on Chevron Texaco.
And nobody is talking about how you could possibly accept money or bribes from these polluting multinationals of the northern industrialised countries. How could a community accept money to supposedly save the climate, or protect the forest, when this is to offset mining and oil extraction in other Indigenous Peoples’ territories?
In 2012, we saw that part of our territory was being logged and we didn’t know why. The government said don’t worry, we’ve got money, US$3,000, to log the forests, and with the US$3,000 the company is going to plant trees somewhere else, so that we can build housing where your forest used to be. And we told them that trees are priceless. You can’t cut them down. The mission of our trees is to be trees and provide oxygen.
We are people who eat a lot of mushrooms in the rainy season. We go and gather mushrooms and we eat them. And we asked ourselves, when are they going to stop logging our forest and supposedly compensating it with carbon credits, and how are we going to teach our children about our way of life?
All of this has to change because we are on the verge of a terrible collapse. Here in Paris, they are not really talking about Indigenous Peoples’ rights, but we’re here to give this message. We’re here to defend the sacred.
For us the sky is priceless, you can’t buy and sell the sky, you can’t buy and sell the oceans, our corn, our seeds, our trees are sacred and that’s why we’re here. We’re here to defend the sacred and we hope that the world will hear us and heed us and know that money is not the answer.
Gloria Ushigua, President of Sapara Women’s Association, Ecuador: I’m from the Amazon. I’m not from the city. In the mountain, there’s a spirit. There are beings, just like us. And in the river there are spirits. I learned from my medicine people, shamans, to speak and hang out with these spirits.
Now my territory is being taken over. They want to drill for oil. And that is going to ruin these mountains and rivers and spirits. It’s going to destroy everything. We’re going to die. All of the Indigenous Peoples of Ecuador are going to die. We’re all afraid of dying.
Half of the Ecuadorian Amazon was polluted by Chevron Texaco. There are Indigenous Peoples who are dying of cancer, and hepetitis, and they have tumours. We see the effects of oil exploitation.
I’m happy to be here to tell you what’s happening with Indigenous Peoples’ lands and territories and the beautiful place where I was born.
The government is very tough on the Indigenous Peoples. The government tries to convince Indigenous Peoples to allow oil drilling, but we don’t want it, we don’t accept it. So the Indigenous Peoples are united, even though the government tries to buy off individuals and even brings them to the COPs.
The spirit of the Amazon nonetheless supports us. Our spirituality is the Amazon and that’s why we defend the Amazon so vehemently. We don’t want to die of hunger.
Alberto Saldamando, International Indigenous Rights Lawyer: I’ve been working in the human rights field for a couple of generations actually, particularly with regard to indigenous rights.
Those rights include the right to land, the right to ancestral land. In fact, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has said that that right to ancestral lands includes the right that the lands should be returned.
The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples obviously is the major document that we rely on now. That was adopted in 2007.
We’re dealing with a long line of jurisprudence establishing that Indigenous Peoples have the right of self-determination. The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognises the right to self-determination without qualification to Indigenous Peoples. It also recognises the right to their ancestral lands. And in fact it also requires that whenever possible those lands should be returned.
It’s not that we’re talking about something in the abstract, we’re talking about the spiritual life of Indigenous Peoples. It’s also a right to culture.
One of our demands before the COP is that any climate change activities should be submitted to human rights, including the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
I have one example of reforestation and REDD projects. This is directly from the Green Climate Fund booth. These are the initial projects funded by the Green Climate Fund. The one I’m referring to is in Peru. It’s in a Peruvian national park, a protected area where Indigenous Peoples live. This is the way they describe it:
“The project will facilitate better land-use planning and management of the region’s wetlands, while strengthening sustainable, commercial bio-businesses of non-timber forest products…. The funding will support government departments in developing the land-use plan, and provide support to community-based organizations for the participation of Indigenous People.”
International law requires not the involvement of NGOs, but the peoples themselves and their own traditional decision-making bodies. It requires that they be informed prior to the project, with free, prior and informed consent, which includes the right to say no. This project is relying on NGOs to perform that role for them. That’s a major point.
“The largest share of funds will support bio-businesses, including for business plans, marketing and management, equipment and supplies, and the development of solar energy for operations.”
What this implies is that this territory is going to be opened up for roads. You’re going to have colonists, another form of colonisation, by people coming in for these jobs, whatever employment is done.
Whatever spiritual life these people have, whatever relationship they have with the forest is going to be destroyed.
Those are the concerns that we have and those are the human rights standards that are not being applied. The point we’re making is that they are using REDD as a development mechanism. The states are using REDD to develop indigenous lands. Whatever traditions Indigenous Peoples have, whatever spiritual values they adhere to, whatever spritual and cosmic ceremony, their songs, their language, their very identity, is threatened by these kinds of projects that only see indigenous lands as a source of development.
So it’s not just REDD, it’s what comes with REDD. Everyone wants to save the forest, but this support for bio-businesses, support for big businesses, for roads, is really the most threatening aspect of REDD.