Reflections after COP27

COP, Indigenous People, the Church and climate justice. A long read from Jocabed R Solano Miselis.

There is a Gunadule story that expresses the importance of living in community. A fragment of the oral chant goes like this: We need the weaker sticks, because without them we cannot maintain the nega (house). Those lesser sticks maintain the buwar, sustain it; they make the whole nega solid. The strong stick must lean on the smaller ones, "I cannot do it alone. I cannot bear the weight of the whole house."

And this is very true in many aspects of life, including the fight against climate change. Did you know? Indigenous Peoples support about 80% of the world's remaining biodiversity and 17% of the planet's forest carbon. Yet they are one of the groups most vulnerable to climate change.According to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), this is due to the intersection of multiple inequity-producing constructs, such as gender, income and class, and the historical marginalization that has gone with them. And this marginalization is based on patterns of inequality which were forged during colonial times. Currently they are reinforced in various ways, such as the policies of many states based on colonialism, recurrent epistemicide (the destruction of knowledge), economies based on cannibal capitalism, extractivism towards land, forced displacement by wars, climate change, climate injustice - among others.

For example, in Gunayala, one of the territories of the Gunadule people, every year the sea level rises, affecting people's lives by displacing members of the community, and this affects the Gunas socially and spiritually. In their view of the cosmos, they propose a harmonious relationship with the land and the sea. They call the land Nabgwana (Mother Earth) and the sea Muu Billi (Grandmother Sea).

Arctic communities increasingly perceive and experience changes and impacts such as ocean acidification and loss of permafrost and its associated repercussions of methane release. Indigenous communities in the other regions - Africa; Asia; Central and South America and the Caribbean; Eastern Europe, Russian Federation, Central Asia and Transcaucasus; North America; and the Pacific - also have high levels of vulnerability as they face, among other things, severe droughts, extreme floods, fires, and persistent organic pollutants. 

Faced with this reality, every year hundreds of indigenous brothers and sisters participate in the Conference of the Parties (COP), the annual summit held by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), with different aims, including advocating for Climate Justice. As the brothers and sisters of different Indigenous Peoples say, without the rights of Indigenous Peoples there is no climate justice. The participation of Indigenous Peoples together with all civil society is of vital importance in these spaces to pressure the parties to make decisions in favor of climate justice. However, this is not always possible because governments, especially the richest governments, who are the biggest polluters and emitters of greenhouse gases, do not assume their moral and economic responsibility in the face of the climate emergency. 

But in this COP27 it was possible to establish an economic fund to help combat losses and damage. An achievement that civil society in Latin America has been pushing for a long time and a demand of the global south for more than 30 years, from the Rio Summit in 1992, according to Alejandro Aleman, coordinator of the Climate Action Network (CAN).

However, it made little other progress, having focused on the symptoms of climate change, those symptoms that are encompassed in what is called "loss and damage," reflecting the global inability to face the terrible reality that we still mostly depend on fossil fuels. How can we prevent more loss and damage from occurring? On the other hand, the rich countries have still not delivered the $100 billion a year that they have been promising for years, and that seemed imminent at the COP26 in Glasgow, and there is no clarity in the terms of the financing agreements. Only incomplete and hasty agreements. 

There has been no desire to delve into the issue of Indigenous Peoples in the control and grievance mechanism. On the other hand, the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan document makes some mentions of Indigenous Peoples. Here are two points I would like to point out:

Recognizing that climate change is a common concern of humankind, Parties should, in taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective human rights obligations, the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and persons in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, women's empowerment and intergenerational equity. 

The other is stated in point XVII Enhancing Implemention, where action by non-Party stakeholders is mentioned in point 83. It recognizes the important role of Indigenous Peoples, local communities, cities and civil society, including youth and children, in addressing and responding to climate change, and stresses the urgent need for multilevel and cooperative action in this regard. 

How to live well?

These points are very important for us as civil society to continue to follow up, and for the church to be part of civil society. The question is, in what ways can we accompany, support, watch over and speak up so that these declarations can be carried out? Walking with the most 'vulnerable' is a commitment of faith, which calls us to meet Jesus as he walks with the most vulnerable. We can recognize his face in them and the deep spirituality of Jesus in this hermeneutic of encountering those who suffer. But it is also many of them, including Indigenous Peoples, who through their lament, wisdom, resistance and action continue to show us other ways of living are possible. It is from there that we can also discern, learn and live in a a just relationship with the earth from their wisdoms and even to denounce the colonialism present in the social structures that are very present in state policies and from these colonial policies are intended to bring solutions, when it is the same structures of the states who are based on colonialist systems that have led us to collapse. 

Then it becomes very urgent to deconstruct our systems and value other ways of life based on good living, with fair economies for all. Indigenizing our ways of understanding our relationship with the earth is also a biblical idea, as in some passages of the bible we are reminded of the importance of caring for all relationships in a just ecological coexistence, based on relationships of justice, love and peace. When we are reminded of the importance of resting the earth and the animals, when in Genesis we are presented with a proposal of life based on God's shalom for all creation, when the life of Jesus was love of neighbor. That is why walking with those who care for the earth is also a proposal of faith that must be deepened in a reciprocity of learning where we recognize that without the most vulnerable, we cannot make community. 

Collaboration and support for Indigenous Peoples should lead us to promote dialogue with non-indigenous science, and strengthen decision-making and leadership capacities, increasing the possibilities of sustainable adaptation and climate-resilient development. That is why it is necessary to influence the processes from our governments, in our countries at the local and regional level to strengthen support for the struggles of the indigenous communities; and also at the global level in spaces such as the COPs, to support political lobbying with governments to support the demands from the indigenous caucus. This requires that we know the technicalities and documents of the negotiations and the rights of Indigenous Peoples. What are the strategic mechanisms that we can work to collaborate with Indigenous Peoples as communities of faith?

Well if we believe that from the 'vulnerable' there is hope and strength, then we must recognize that from their wisdom, governance, and daily advocacy in their communities and in global spaces, there is a way to rebalance climate injustice. Rather, this wisdom they have received from the Creator gives them the tools and strength to resist and rise up to support life systems for all living beings. Without them the planet collapses. 

Recognizing the actions of the Ruah in the indigenous communities in relation to the care of the earth is a sign of the presence of God in all his creation. In this nega, the Guna people recognize themselves.

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