On 11 December 2019, activist demonstrations at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Madrid (COP 25) escalated into a pinnacle moment of the conference and highlighting the anger felt by climate change activists around perceived inaction of chief decision-makers and lack of proper inclusion of human rights in climate change negotiations.
Following the demonstrations, Landscape News spoke with Janene Yazzie, a member of the Native American Diné tribe and leader of the Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development involved in the negotiation processes, about what the day represented in the context of COP 25.
“The demonstrations today have shown that those who care most and understand most about climate emergency, and the things that need to be done and the need for critical meaningful action, are continually shut out in silence in these spaces where these discussions are taking place.
“And that is a complete contradiction to human rights principles, to the purpose of the UNFCCC and the engagement constituencies. And so I think that this is a very apt metaphor for the state of the world that we’re in and how decision-makers aren’t doing enough and opening enough doors to those who are most impacted by these changes be at the forefront of discussing what we should do, how we should act and how meaningful those actions should be.
“We were not at the demonstrations, but when we found out that a lot of our youth were in general involved in that process, we found out quickly that the reason why they all got escorted out was an excuse that it was a safety issue. But really, we know it was because they were disrupting and being assertive about the fact that their voices needed to be at the forefront of these discussions. And they were frustrated that, and with every other constituency group, they were being silenced marginalized left out and otherwise ignored in these very important processes, while these discussions go forward promoting false solutions.
“We’re seeing Indigenous communities and youth come together right now very strongly. We had a very large delegation of Indigenous youth that were brought in by different organizations, and they came in ready to work, and they got really involved with a lot of our veteran advocates that are used to working within these mechanisms. And they brought in a lot of great energy, great ideas and commitment to get important work done, so that we could open up more spaces and disrupt the continuation of these narratives and practices of people speaking for us and not to us, not to letting us speak for ourselves. That really shows the growing leadership and the bad-assery – that’s the only way to say it – of our young people and how they’re going to transform the world.
“This COP feels different than other COPs because of them. All the other things – the meetings, the negotiation spaces – still feel frustratingly the same. I mean, we’re hearing the same arguments: ‘Oh, we got to figure out the finances, and how do we support solutions that are scalable and replicable?’ But I do see a lot more, I hear a lot more in these spaces people just being fed up and holding these people who are regurgitating the same type of platitudes to the fact that real solutions are found by decentralizing decision-making, decentralizing ownership and management over natural resources, over ecosystems and investing in real solutions on the ground that aren’t high-tech, that aren’t really expensive but are predicated on vulnerable, marginalized and systemically oppressed groups to have their rights respected. Like that is one fundamental, basic, minimum thing state parties can do to make a great change in how we are able to accelerate our response to the impacts of climate change. And I think that was made loud and clear, despite the barriers that were made and created to marginalize or sidetrack those voices.
“Article 6 was the core of what we’re involved with here and the negotiations around that. The Indigenous peoples have been very vocal that we cannot accept an Article 6 decision that does not include that language [on human rights]. And the argument that we kept getting back from the parties was that, ‘Oh, well, this is just a technical document to discuss the financialization of carbon markets.’ And, you know, this is the same line that we’ve been hearing for the past three years since they began negotiations around this issue.
“But our argument has always been showing that even their own reports, like the U.N. Gap Report, the IPCC, and the findings that they found about where these carbon sinks are, which are most often located on Indigenous peoples’ lands, directly involve us. This decision, and everything about carbon markets, and this whole idea that we can marketize our solutions are directly relevant to what’s going on in our communities on the ground. And that’s why it’s important not only to have the rights of Indigenous peoples included in the language but all human rights, because all communities are impacted by this.
“And so that has been our ongoing conversation, and last week we made a lot of progress lobbying parties who started to understand, parties that before were neutral and said they didn’t really see the relevancy. They actually came out strong for inclusion of the language that we needed to make sure that those safeguards were incorporated in Article 6.2 specifically, which is the overarching guideline for how Article 6 is going to be implemented, and we were happy with that.
“But when the third draft of Article 6 came out, it took out all of the language regarding human rights. And now there’s a placeholder that is in an inappropriate place, meaning it’s not in the umbrella-like guide on implementation, to add and include some language from the Paris Agreement. And, you know, it’s like we didn’t think it could have gotten worse from the version that they were already deliberating when COP 25 started, and it did, and that was extremely frustrating for us.
“But we took a day off on Sunday, and we came back strong and reenergized and strategized, and now we’re getting those states again to once again lobby this. We highly doubt that, and worst-case scenario hope that, they don’t pass anything on Article 6 because our red line is that no agreement is better than a bad agreement because we’ve had experience with that, of them passing weak standards and saying, ‘We’ll come back to this later. And we’ll fix what’s wrong with it.’ And we have enough data and information that that doesn’t work.
“So that’s been our red line. And another thing that came out of all of this is that with all these states and countries so committed to establishing carbon markets, they can’t even come to consensus for how that’s going to work. And that should also show them that this doesn’t work – that even when you’re committed to this, and this is your primary solution, and you can’t come to an agreement for how that’s going to work – let alone honor human rights and Indigenous rights standards that are the bare foundation that they should be working on, then that should tell us that these market solutions are irrelevant and aren’t applicable to address the crisis we’re in.
“We shared that with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – she has a very strong advocacy role as well – so that we can make sure that this is repeated across all the messages that they’re getting. And so we don’t really know how and why they legitimize taking up that language at all because we know that the human rights standards and safeguards have to have been repeated to them. We know that the weaknesses of the carbon market has been an issue that has been brought up since these deliberations have begun. But there seems to be some influence and some something happening in bilaterals that we don’t quite understand. So it’s been very difficult to address why they’re still going down this track.
“We’re trying to create solutions to save humanity and save our diverse ecosystems and our lands and our oceans, and they think that they’re going to come up with that in silos and closed-door conversations where we know that that doesn’t work for anybody. But we’re here and committed to making sure that we’ve put forward our best effort to ensure we get on the right track.
“We weren’t part of organizing the demonstration today, but the people who did were definitely sharing the same frustrations, sharing that they’re fed up with this process. We don’t have time for this anymore. Not in this space. It’s so frustrating. It’s heartbreaking too, that there are real lives and real vulnerabilities that we’re carrying with us even here in this space. We’re still getting reports of land rights and human rights defenders being killed while these conversations are taking place. The rise of apartheid, and what’s happening in Chile, and this is true to some degree all around the globe, even in our developed nations. This commitment to carry out this fight is not because we want to win here; it’s because we are trying to protect our communities at home and also develop policies and actions that we can address as true stewards of our ecosystems and communities.”