Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Indigenous people, human rights, and climate change

Among the delegates at COP15 are representatives of the fourth world: indigenous people not represented directly by any nation state, such as native Americans in the US, arctic peoples such as Inuit (crossing US & Canadian boundaries) and Sami (Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia), natives of the Amazon, and many more.

They see their position as people whose traditional lifestyles have contributed the least to global warming, but who are among the most vulnerable to its impacts. As summarized by a Pacific Islander who spoke at a 'side meeting,' "We do not own the land, we belong to the land - but we are losing the land, the species we depend on, and our way of life. If climate change makes the land disappear, we will disappear. We can not simply migrate to new places, because our identity is with our native place - without it our identity disappears."

A Sami spokesperson framed this problem in terms of human rights. As traditional people, climate change fundamentally threatens the human rights recognized by the UN - to life, housing, food, health - since indigenous life, livelihood and culture are so directly tied to the land. Human rights are not a part of the language included in the UN framework for climate change.

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