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Tom Goldtooth, Dallas Goldtooth, and Casey Camp Horinek conducting an Indigenous sunrise ceremony in front of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

“Annexed” The Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the UN Climate Change Conference 2015 Danielle Deluca, Miriam Anne Frank, and Agnes Portalewska


n December 12, 2015, in Paris, after two decades of climate talks within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), world leaders from 195 countries and the European Union came to a consensus in Paris on a legally binding agreement on climate change, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C and reducing carbon emissions across the globe. The 2-week long 21st Session of the Conference of Parties (COP 21) process also brought together some of the world’s largest corporations, environmental and human rights organizations, and grassroots activists to hash out international energy goals, standards, and implementation. Over 250 Indigenous delegates were present and advocated for the inclusion of Indigenous Peoples’ rights in the Paris Agreement. Hailed as “historic” and “a turning point for the world,” the deal reached its goal to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate change, yet disappointed many Indigenous Peoples due to its ultimate failure to include legally binding references to protecting Indigenous Peoples’ rights and their sovereignty. Earlier drafts of the agreement included the protection of Indigenous rights in Article 2.2, which would have formed part of the text that is legally binding. But in the second week, this reference was annexed under direction from the European Union, Norway, and the United States. Despite active lobbying by the Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate 12 • w ww. cs. org

Change (the formal body of Indigenous Peoples recognized as observers to this process), the EU and US have been poised as two key players in the fight against Climate Change. But their lack of support for Indigenous rights will leave Article 2.2, and consequently, Indigenous Peoples, without binding legal or political clout. The references to the protection of Indigenous Peoples’ rights were finally included in the preamble to the text, which crafts the framework for interpreting and implementing the operative section. COP 21 brought together over 250 Indigenous leaders from all corners of the planet, yet most of them were excluded from official negotiations. Chief Bill Erasmus, 28-year elected leader of the Dene Nation, voiced his frustration: “We have our own land, our own language, and our organizations and laws. We meet the criteria of a nation. We are a nation. Why are we not in that room?” Considering the challenges that climate change presents to Indigenous Peoples and the land and water-based responses required, Chief Erasmus’ argument strikes a chord. More than 370 million people worldwide identify as Indigenous, yet their leaders are routinely excluded from decisions that affect them.

The Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change

The Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change could not formally take part in the actual COP negotiations. However, they worked nonstop to influence the process, crafting and delivering position papers and making sure that governments gathered in Paris were clear on their demands. They organized ALL PHOTOS BY ANDRÉ LARSSON.

Cultural Survival Quarterly - 40.1  

“Annexed” - The Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the Paris Climate Change Talks