This was the conclusion of the forum “Climate Commitments in Latin America: Challenges to Include the Human Rights of Ethnic Peoples and Women”, carried out by Ambiente y Sociedad in association with Connectas (Journalistic Platform for the Americas).
December the 12th of this year will be an iconic day. In addition to the fact that it has been five years since the Paris Agreement was signed, this treaty is the most important to fight against climate change. The member countries of the agreement must submit updates or new climate commitments NDS (Nationally Determined Contributions). These documents collect the objectives that each country has set for itself and as a whole; such as limiting the rise in global temperature to a maximum of 2 ° C . An unprecedented challenge! Considering that the global future depends on this.
Against this background, la Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad, in alliance with Connectas, developed the forum “Climate Commitments in Latin America: Challenges to Include the Human Rights of Ethnic Peoples and Women”, in which they discussed how not to leave these communities behind in the NDCs. As the panelist Dr. John Nox, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights (HR) and the environment (2015-2018) explained, climate change issues interfere with the enjoyment of fundamental rights, such as: right to life, water and any right that implies a dignified life.
To begin with the panel, María Alejandra Aguilar, coordinator of Climate Justice for la Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad, pointed out that “one of the greatest challenges facing Latin America is being a growing region with the great need to reduce its emissions and its vulnerability.” On the other hand, although there is progress, there is still incoherence between climate and economic policies. For example: the coronavirus pandemic poses the risk of an economic recovery that depends on the extractive industries. “If we miss the opportunity to make a transition, the consequence will be an increase in emissions,” Aguilar mentioned.
Taking into account the previous challenges, the discussion focused on the role that the human rights of indigenous, Afro and women’s communities play in meeting climate commitments. Omaira Bolaños, from the NGO Rights and Resources Initiative, explained that Indigenous and Afro women have played a preponderant role in terms of adaptation, conservation and management of the environment. Therefore, “to address the issue of climate change it is necessary to address the issue of gender and women’s rights in collective tenure.” Bolaños pointed out that they must be a political pair that makes decisions about climate change.
Along the same lines of ideas, Ketty Marcelo, leader of the Yanesha Ashaninka people and representative of ONAMIAP(National Organization of indigenous Women), recalled that women are the most vulnerable to climate change, so they can also contribute to actions that fight against it. How? She asked herself rhetorically, to which she replied: “with full and effective participation in the decisions of our community, since it has been demonstrated, with the pandemic, how we can face the challenges with our ancestral knowledge.”
Regarding the actions to be taken to unite these three worlds (that of Afro and indigenous women, their human rights and climate change), Bolaños said that one of the best actions is to integrate the tenure rights of the communities into the climatic actions. For example, he noted, “in Latin America the lands owned by communities (whether recognized or not) contain more than 176 billion tons of carbon.” Therefore, the territorial security of these peoples is important.
Likewise, Aguilar emphasized that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had indicated that the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples and local communities is essential for mitigating these changes, as well as the adaptation to them. Additionally, she mentioned that 80% of the biodiversity and 24% of the carbon of tropical forests are in indigenous territories. Which is why NDCs must have a rights-based approach.
Additionally, the panelists seemed to agree that the road to reach such agreements is still long. In Colombia, Aguilar commented, the document, a draft of the NDC, presented in October, “did not have a clear focus on human rights or the national goal of reducing emissions for consultation.” However, she reported that President Iván Duque announced, on November the 26th, a 51% emission reduction target by 2030, which is an encouraging commitment for the region and the world, but it will be on December the 12th when the details are released. For example, wheather it will include a rights approach (which was one of the recommendations that Ambiente y Sociedad made to the draft).
On his part, Marcelo commented that, although indigenous people are subjects of law in all Latin American countries, this item is not always respeted. “Since 2009, in Peru, roundtables have been held with indigenous communities. But it is not on equal terms. During these conversations they take the inputs from us, but they just make the decisions when we are not present.” concluded the panelist.
During the panel, he also took the opportunity to talk about the relationship between the Escazú Agreement and climate action, which guarantees that defenders of human rights and the environment, such as ethnic communities, not only protect their lives, but also guarantee access to information on projects that may affect their territories. In addition, it was mentioned that children and Girls are one of the most vulnerable actors to climate change, although with less participation in decision-making. Therefore, in Latin America, not only do we speak of mitigation, but we also talk on adaptation to these climatic phenomena. A lesson learnt during the Hurricane Iota in the Archipelago Region! Where it was shown that, not only are we a region with high vulnerability, but we are also poorly prepared to face the intensified climate variability; consequences of the global increase in temperature.
The important thing, as Knox said at the closing of the event, is that “there are many people and organizations working to curb the impacts of climate change and we must continue to do what we can from all fronts.”