The following article is part of an Eco-Perspective special in which the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law is collaborating with the VLS COP22 Observer Delegation
By Hannah Solomon
Panelists presenting [November 8th] on indigenous peoples knowledge outlined land use and resource management practices adopted by indigenous peoples that are viable and sustainable approaches to climate change adaptation. To date, climate change approaches have focused largely on utilizing modern technologies and developing new technologies to the detriment of indigenous peoples. Panelists began by describing specific indigenous adaptation approaches, but slowly shifted the discussion toward human rights.
One panelist’s presentation stood out in particular. Kittisak Rattanakrajangsri, a panelist from the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact Foundation (AIPP), presented on holistic land use and the livelihoods of indigenous peoples. Kittisak told the story of the Pgakeuyaw people in Thailand. Made up of 20 households, 35 families, 107 people, and 5 clans, the Pgakeuyaw believes in a deep connection between humans and nature, and that without the forests, there is no life. The Pgakeuyaw have developed a complex system for managing their land that involves classifying land use into categories such as settlement area, cemetery area, wet-paddy field area, and mix farm land, to name a few. The way the Pgakeuyaw manages resources reflects their intricate knowledge of the different ecosystems within their village territory; the way they manage their land and avoid land pressure and degradation demonstrates their sustainable and holistic approach to land-use practices.
Until recently, the needs and practices of indigenous groups like the Pgakeuyaw were pushed aside to make room for new and fresh climate change policies. Edward Porokwa, a panelist from the Pastoralists Indigenous Non-Governmental Organization (PINGO’s) Forum, boldly pointed out that actions taken to address climate change affect indigenous peoples just as much as the adverse effects of climate change. The Paris Agreement represents a step in the right direction in encouraging Parties to consider the rights of indigenous peoples, as well as indigenous knowledge bases, although indigenous peoples feel the Agreement does not go far enough.
The Paris Agreement explicitly calls for the consideration of the rights of indigenous peoples in the preamble, and the taking into account of the knowledge of indigenous peoples in adaptation actions in Article 7.5. Areas of the Paris Agreement beyond those two provisions present opportunities for the rights and knowledge of indigenous peoples to be considered by Parties. These include Article 5.2’s mention of non-carbon benefits and Article 8.4’s inclusion of the need to account for non-economic losses and the resilience of communities, livelihoods, and ecosystems.
To ensure the rights of indigenous peoples are protected, Tunga Bhadra Rai, a panelist from the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN), stressed that when implementing the Paris Agreement, Parties must tap into indigenous knowledge bases for adaptation approaches, include non-carbon benefits as mitigation approaches, and focus discussions on capacity building and non-economic loss and damage.
Despite the lack of attention to indigenous peoples in previous climate change negotiations, COP 22’s emphasis on community-based approaches presents a real opportunity for these voices to be heard.