Nov 18, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Indigenous activists "seen, not heard" at COP27

Photo illustration of Big Wind Carpenter overlaid on a background of Shiprock, New Mexico and abstract shapes.

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Hundreds of Indigenous peoples from around the world are participating in COP27, a record turnout despite the UN climate summit's poor track record with Indigenous inclusion.

Driving the news: While representation has increased, several Indigenous activists and leaders tell Axios they're being shut out of decision-making dialogues.

Speaking from COP27, Jennifer "Jing" Tauli Corpuz, from the Kankana-ey Igorot People of Mountain Province in the Philippines and managing director for policy at Nia Tero, tells Axios that as negotiations move forward, Indigenous leaders have not been allowed in most of the spaces where they're taking place.

  • "I was in several panels where everyone was paying lip service to Indigenous peoples, acknowledging the science finding that Indigenous peoples are the most effective guardians of nature," said Corpuz, who is a member of the Indigenous Peoples' Caucus at the summit.
  • "What we really want is to have a voice in the actual negotiations, and that's just not happening."

What they're saying: "We're an example that there is a silencing, in the meeting, of our voices to this day," Big Wind Carpenter, Northern Arapaho tribal member and Indigenous conservation associate at the Wyoming Outdoor Council, tells Axios.

  • Carpenter had their credentials to the negotiating rooms at COP27 revoked after they and three other activists interrupted President Biden's speech last Friday — by releasing a "war cry" and holding up a banner with 'People vs. Fossil Fuels' inscribed on it from their seats — to protest the IRA's investment in fossil fuels.
  • "I'm a queer person, two-spirit. I am a climate activist. And there is repression of both of those people here," Carpenter tells Axios, describing how the protest put them at "heightened risk" in a nation that prosecutes activists and is openly hostile toward the LGBTQ+ community.
  • "I would do it again," Carpenter said. "Biden was only here in Egypt for three hours ... we felt like we needed to do something and that was the only avenue that we were going to get our message across."

Climate justice activist and president of the Center for Cultural Power Favianna Rodriguez was at the summit during the protest.

  • "When it comes to how decisions are being made at the global level, we're still dealing with a predominantly male, older, I would say, [who are] not responsive to the demands of movements from throughout the world," Rodriguez said.
  • "We have to be a part of the conversation, even if we have to be disruptive about it."

Of note: With approximately 250 delegates, Indigenous representatives make up less than 1% of the 40,000 delegates in attendance.

  • And an analysis of registered participants by the NGO Global Witness found that there are at least twice as many fossil fuel lobbyists attending COP27 — 636 participants — as Indigenous delegates.

The bottom line: According to Corpuz, the exclusion of Indigenous peoples in summit negotiations limits their impact in helping inform land-based climate adaptation and mitigation strategies.

  • This includes traditional ecological knowledge and Indigenous peoples' tenure security, or recognition of customary land rights, that past IPCC reports have found reduce emissions.
  • "The Indigenous attire is very photogenic. They like taking our pictures," Corpuz tells Axios. "But it seems that we're like kids. We're good to be seen, but not to be heard."
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