Northerners join Paris invasion at COP21 forum

Northerners join Paris invasion at COP21 forum
Daniel T’seleie of Fort Providence (at right, his arms wide) was one of several people from the Northwest Territories who attended the climate change talks in Paris last week. He took part in a rally outside the offices of Paris oil giant Total on Dec. 8.Photo courtesy of Allan Lisner.

There are many ways to handle losing an election, but hopping aboard a plane to attend a large, international forum on climate change is probably one of the less likely coping mechanisms.

This was Herbert Nakimayak’s plan. If he had not been elected as the new MLA of Nunakput his “consolation prize” would have been a trip to Paris, to watch the ongoing discussions at the COP21 forum.

As the vice-president and head of International Affairs for the Canadian chapter of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, Nakimayak felt it was important to have northern Indigenous folks attending the talks. After all, climate change already appears to have had an impact in the far north, the Paulatuk resident’s backyard.

“All the North, all the whole circumpolar village has been a thermostat for what’s happening in this world,” Nakimayak said. “We’re noticing the rising temperatures and the unpredictable weather conditions with all the slumping and the shoreline erosion and the permafrost degradation, there’s a lot going on and we’re starting to see it at an accelerated pace here.”

With the Paris Accord international climate change treaty now signed off by 195 countries, the persistence of indigenous peoples to have their rights recognized in the new international document appears to have paid off – for now.

Article 2.2 of the accord addresses human rights and specifically indigenous rights as they related to the climate change agreement, though it was annexed and bracketed during the draft process, nearly cut in other words, for a time due to pushback from mostly European countries.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna pushed for the inclusion of this statement, as did indigenous peoples and their allies as they rallied and protested on the streets of Paris.

“The (final) agreement must recognize adequately the importance of respecting human rights and the rights of indigenous peoples,” McKenna told a plenary session on Dec. 10, adding she was “deeply concerned” that the reference to human rights and rights of indigenous peoples was being challenged.

“Should human rights for Indigenous Peoples be struck from the final agreement, negotiators will have destroyed any pretense of their intention to mitigate climate change,” Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said in a statement. “Failure to protect Indigenous Peoples’ rights in a final agreement will fuel destruction of the forests and other ecosystems managed since time immemorial by indigenous peoples.”

Eriel Deranger, a representative of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation at the Paris talks, provided almost daily updates from the talks online.

“Why do we need to have the inclusion of the rights of indigenous peoples in this document? Well, it’s pretty simple,” she said. “It’s absolutely imperative that we engage and fully integrate the rights of indigenous peoples because many of these people have knowledge systems that are going to be critical for the development of adaptation and mitigation that’s going to be truly effective in achieving real climate justice for everyone. “It’s no coincidence that 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity is occupied by indigenous people, their knowledge systems are going to be critical – our knowledge systems are going to be critical – to actually getting to safe climate levels and the protection and preservation of Mother Earth.”

Ultimately, the brackets were removed and the article was included in the final agreement.

Other elements of the Paris accord that Canada has agreed to include:

  • A commitment to keeping the rise in global temperatures below two degrees, with a 1.5-degree rise set as a goal. Beyond that, scientists believe there could be serious consequences;
  • A pledge to cut emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 goals by 2030;
  • Reporting and monitoring of emissions, with meetings every five years to review progress;
  • Spending at least $100-billion a year, along with other developed countries, between 2020 and 2025 to help growing economies offset the effects of climate change;
  • Develop a new Canadian climate strategy between the federal government and the provinces while also moving on a North American plan.

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