According to a paper published in Nature, indigenous peoples have always been viewed as victims of climate change rather than agents of environmental conservation. Indigenous people have always sought to participate in discussions and agreements on climate change and environmental protection.
The paper cites the dual role of indigenous people living in the Amazon region in the East of Equador to fight climate change.
- First, by resisting occupation and deforestation in the area.
- Second, by becoming increasingly aware of their responsibility in protecting the forests.
By choosing not to develop, they contribute significantly to reducing GHG emission and protecting the rainforest and sites where precious resources and minerals are stored.
The article also laid the history of indigenous people’s efforts to get involved in climate agreements and their desire to be acknowledged as effective agents to combat climate change and not as victims of it.
Hence, they want protection from enterprises seeking to explore and extract fossil fuel, which violates their human rights and contaminate their water sources.
Protecting the indigenous people and their territory is both a win-win solution for the indigenous people and combat climate change.
Although the Ecuadoran constitution and agreements with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) protect their lands and territories against other entities, there is a caveat, an escape clause that territorial landowners do not own the mineral resources in the subsoil.
The caveat, a little loophole in their constitution, can permit other entities to extract without the indigenous people’s consent. This indeed led to the exploitation and extraction of the oil in indigenous lands.
In 2012, an Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of Sarayaku Kichwa, having their rights violated by an oil company. The legal struggle took 12 years for the government of Ecuador to be fined and issued a public apology, and the termination of the oil exploration. Sadly the ruling did not prevent oil exploration from other indigenous communities in Ecuador.
Under President Correa, Ecuador sold oil exploration rights on 500 thousand acres of forest to the Chinese state-owned oil companies for US$80million in 2016.
The paper says that while Chinese companies drill away their oil and encroach upon their lands, usually with their private armies, the indigenous people have little power against them yet are prepared to risk their lives to confront military force.
Alicia Cawiya, vice-president of the Huaorani people, one of the indigenous groups, says that “The territory is not just for the indigenous people, it is for the world. Everyone must support it and fight for these territories.”
Indigenous people since 1990s have considered their involvement in climate change and protecting their environment a vital role.
When governments recognise the rights of indigenous people not to develop, to be left alone and thrive in their lands, they are also helping them to preserve the forests and its resources, and its function to fight climate change.
To read the whole paper, click the link below:
Etchart, L. The role of indigenous peoples in combating climate change. Palgrave Commun 3, 17085 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1057/palcomms.2017.85