Poor communities claim that their voices and solutions are not being heard in the Paris climate change talks and say that decisions that affect their future are being taken by the more powerful groups without consulting them.
In the climate talks “blue zone”, in the Parisian district of Le Bourget, are the governments, their advisers and lawyers, big business and the financiers. Facebook has a stall, along with UN agencies and scientific bodies.
But the world’s 4 billion small farmers, fishermen and women, indigenous peoples, hunters and gatherers, rural workers, pastoralists, and young people on the frontline of climate change, inhabit the “green zone”, beyond the fence where the decision-makers do not go.
Many of those in the green zone say they are excluded, and feel hurt that they have no seat at the table. The more powerful, richer voices are able to drown out their ideas and even set back their causes at the Paris talks.
“Right now, the talks are a failure. Our voices are not being heard,” said Jorge Furagaro Kuetgaje, climate coordinator for Coica, the Indigenous People of the Amazon Basin.
Furagaro Kuetgaje and a colleague travelled for 10 days to get to Paris, to press for one sentence about indigenous rights to be included in the final text. This week it was expunged by negotiators, reportedly by a bloc of countries led by the US, UK and Norway, which had previously supported them.
“We think that mining and oil companies that are on our territory or that want to be there, they have more power in the negotiations,” Furagaro Kuetgaje said. “So our voice is not heard. Yet we indigenous peoples live in the forests, and we protect nature and biodiversity and reduce climate change.
“For us to continue to conserve the tropical forests … we need to have strong rights to those forests. Death should not be the price we pay for playing our part in preventing the emissions that fuel climate change.” A Global Witness report found that at least 116 environmental activists were murdered in 2014, and 40% of the victims were indigenous.
Around 500 Amazonian Indians, Sami people from the Arctic, Dayaks from Indonesian rainforests devastated by mining, Sioux Indians fighting oil sands development in the Canadian province of Alberta, and Marshall Islanders whose homes and hospitals are inundated by rising water, say they are disappointed that their voices have not been heard.
But since last Friday, when news reached the many groups that all reference to indigenous peoples had been removed, the mood has darkened further, and the sense of betrayal is palpable.
“We came here with solutions. We do not understand why people make decisions for us in this way. Now the Colombian government has signed an agreement with Britain and Germany to avoid deforestation in the Amazon. But no one asked us. We were not consulted. We will lose our autonomy,” said Furagaro Kuetgaje.
Equally disappointed in the way the negotiations are going are representatives of farmers’ organisations and agro-ecologists, who say the agenda in the talks has been to promote the interests of agribusiness.
Via Campesina, an international umbrella organisation of farmers’ groups, has brought people from 30 countries to press the point that smallholder farmers, who are estimated to produce 70% of the world’s food grown for humans, can prevent climate change more effectively than industrial farms can.
Like indigenous leaders, they feel betrayed by the process and fear that the hidden agenda in Paris is to introduce more intensive farming, which will throw smallholders off the land and encourage agribusiness to “grab” African and Asian rural areas to grow biofuels, palm oil and animal feed.
“While our leaders openly welcome multinational companies and their false solutions, we must urgently change the direction where agriculture is headed, to achieve a real positive approach for the climate. Given this, peasant agriculture and agro-ecology are considered economical, favouring both the environment and peasants,” said a spokesman for Via Campesina. “The real solutions to stop greenhouse gas emissions coming from agriculture and the food system are peasant agriculture and agro-ecology.”
They were backed this week by the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the only UN organisation with a remit to work exclusively with small farmers. “If we are going to sustainably improve the livelihoods of the developing world’s smallholder farmers in the context of a changing climate, we need to ensure that their priorities are understood and reflected in policies,” said Ifad’s vice-president, Michel Mordasini.
Ifad’s report, The Policy Advantage, says smallholder farmers “know best the realities they face … and if they are not adequately involved in processes to formulate policy responses, they risk losing out and being sidelined in decisions that directly determine their ability to cope and adapt”.
The Guardian | John Vidal and Terry Slavin