UN Special Rapporteur: Indigenous Peoples’ rights must be respected in global climate change agreement

By | 12 March, 2015

vicky-hrcVictoria Tauli-Corpuz speaks at a Human Rights Council panel on Human Rights and Climate Change.

Indigenous Peoples have contributed little to climate change, but they suffer the worst impacts and have an important role to play in contributing to global solutions, said United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, before the Human Rights Council on March 6th. The discussion focused on human rights and climate change, with most speakers stressing the importance of a global agreement to limit emissions which nations are hoping to adopt in Paris this December. Tauli-Corpuz emphasized that such an agreement must respect human rights, including rights of Indigenous Peoples:“I will remind all of us again that the rights of those who suffer the most from climate change and yet can contribute to the solution should be protected, respected, and fulfilled.

Because many Indigenous Peoples live in fragile ecosystems, such as high mountains, the arctic, low lying areas, small islands and open grasslands, they are affected by climate change more severely than many others and are at greater risk of displacement by natural catastrophes, the Special Rapporteur said. “I have had a chance to meet with young people from Kiribati who have shown me pictures and videos of how their homes have been destroyed already,” she told the Council. Indigenous Peoples are already among the world’s most vulnerable, and the impacts of climate change exacerbate “the weak realization of their human rights enshrined in theUnited Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and International Labor Organization Convention 169.” Climate change poses a serious threat to the rights of self-determination and development, Tauli-Corpuz explained, as well as the rights to food, water, land, territories, resources, and traditional livelihoods and cultures.

Unfortunately,proposed solutions to climate change can also seriously threaten Indigenous Peoples’ lives and livelihoods. Renewable energy projects, biofuel crop farms, and REDD+ projects are often initiated in indigenous territories without the consent of those who live there.Since assuming the Special Rapporteur post in June 2014, she has received numerous reports about the effects of “land grabs for the production of food or biofuels and for building renewable energy projects such as hydroelectric dams and wind mills.” She praised her native Philippines for pushing for the inclusion of REDD+ safeguards which call for the protection of rights and knowledge of indigenous peoples and local communities.

While many countries need to be encouraged to do their part in reversing the harm they have caused the planet, Tauli-Corpuz said Indigenous People are contributing in meaningful ways to a solution. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reportconfirmed what Indigenous Peoples have been saying for a long time: that Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge increases the effectiveness of adaptation measures” against climate change, Tauli-Corpuz said. She cited a recent joint report by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) “which shows that in countries where Indigenous Peoples’ rights are recognized in their forests, the level of deforestation has decreased significantly.

Looking forward to the Paris Climate Conference, she said that an agreement on climate change “needs to acknowledge that respecting human rights for all is an integral component in all decisions and actions taken on climate change mitigation and adaptation.” She emphasized the importance of recognizing Indigenous voices in the climate change negotiations. The current draft, she continued, has opportunities to support Indigenous Peoples’ rights. She questioned why anyone would want to eliminate paragraphs ensuring these rights “when evidence shows that contributions of Indigenous Peoples are really long lasting solutions to the problem.

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The United Nations Human Rights Council appointed Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz as Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in June 2014, tasked with monitoring, reporting and advising on the situation of Indigenous Peoples’ rights worldwide. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity.

Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz is a member of the Kankana-ey, Igorot Indigenous Peoples in the Cordillera Region in the Philippines. She played a key role in drafting and negotiating the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and pushing for its adoption by the UN General Assembly in 2007. She was the Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues from 2005-2009. Ms. Tauli-Corpuz is an indigenous activist and leader who has an expertise on human rights (particularly on indigenous peoples’ rights and women’s rights), development and environment issues, institution building, community organizing and leadership development.

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