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atalc: working together with indigenous peoples in the fight for climate justice

Many of the people most affected by the impacts of climate change are Indigenous Peoples and local communities who have not previously been engaged in or able to influence the development of climate change policies.
atalc: working together with indigenous peoples in the fight for climate justice

But Indigenous communities also possess a vast knowledge capable of contributing significantly to the construction of climate justice and energy sovereignty at the local and global levels. They both need and have a right to be heard when it comes to the development of local and national policies and decision-making processes relating to their natural patrimony: climate change and the policies reponses selected are both likely to have a significant impact on their communities, their livelihoods and their territories.


The relationship between environmentalists and Indigenous Peoples needs to be strengthened so that we can work together to build local climate regimes founded in justice and dignity. Opportunities to discuss and develop ideas, and build spaces of resistance are critical.


what happened?

FoE Latin America and the Caribbean (ATALC) has been developing a programme of activities together with the Movement of Victims and People Affected by Climate Change (MOVIAC), to strengthen the combined capacity of indigenous peoples and environmentalists to shape the climate change agenda.


In June 2008, Friends of the Earth El Salvador / CESTA hosted the first regional meeting of MOVIAC. Later, in October, MOVIAC and ATALC organized a series of activities and workshops which were mainly attended by indigenous groups at the Third Social Forum of the Americas in Guatemala.



CENSAT Agua Viva / FoE Colombia hosted the Caribbean Environmental Initiative, 1-4 December 2008 in Cartagena, Colombia, where various Indigenous Peoples affected by unsustainable energy projects (such as the Urra dam, the Jepirrachí wind farm, the operations of Electricaribe and EPM, among others) met other social organizations (including campesinos, fishers, and public service users). This provided an excellent opportunity to identify the impact of these various projects on their different constituencies and to find out more about the false solutions to climate change proposed by the World Bank and related institutions like the Clean Development Mechanism.


A workshop on climate change negotiating proposals on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) was also hosted by Sobrevivencia / FoE Paraguay in Asunción, Paraguay, in November 2008. It was attended by 30 representatives from social organizations from the Americas. The workshop included a strategy meeting to adopt a position about the impact of REDD on Indigenous Peoples and other vulnerable communities and groups, which included demands for Climate Justice Now!, energy sovereignty, recognition of the victims of climate change, climate debt, and the implementation of realistic and effective measures to face the climate crisis. This position was then circulated internationally and has been presented at regional and global forums including the climate change talks in Poznan in 2008, and the World Social Forum (WSF) in Brazil in January 2009.


Indigenous Peoples from Colombia, Ecuador, and Bolivia were also able to participate in international spaces, informing debates with their vision of the cosmos; their experiences in fighting, resisting and suffering environmental injustices; and the increasing criminalization of their struggles. This contributed to much great shared understanding and solidarity and the gradual development of a common agenda amongst many social movements.


what changed?

The project contributed to increased understanding of global and local visions around climate change, and provided a series of opportunities for Indigenous Peoples and environmentalists to exchanges ideas, perspectives and information.


Everyone participating is now better informed about the structural causes of climate change; resistance struggles against plantations, hydroelectric and other energy projects; and ‘consultation’ processes that actually seek to implement false solutions to climate change that will involve the privatization of territories.


The relationship between FoEI and Indigenous Peoples Organizations has been deepened and reinforced, especially around the defense of territories and ancestral cultures as an alternative to the economic model, which is the main cause of climate change. This has resulted in the development of a common agenda to mobilize for Climate Justice and the evolution of a transformation agenda around the ‘buen vivir’ (good life), the sustainability of pachamama, and peoples territorial sovereignty and autonomy.


It is also important to highlight the increased visibility, at the local, national and international levels,  of Indigenous Peoples’ political, cultural and artistic dynamics, which increases the mobilization capacity of both Indigenous Peoples and environmentalists.


lessons learned?

The lack of knowledge and recognition about the structural causes of climate change slow the process of expansion of the Climate Justice approach. Asymmetries in organizational and resistance processes among IPs, where few are still in the process of reaffirming their identities. The process initiated with this project will certainly benefit them as will bring together experiences of IPs with stronger organizational structures and processes. The underlying challenge is the process of de-colonization of the occidental world, as the transformation agenda connected with the “buen vivir”implies the destructing of many of concepts we use in the normal discur.


what next?

The World Social Forum 2009 will provide an excellent opportunity for a strategic dialogue among environmentalists and Indigenous Peoples. The Andean Forum (18-19 March 2009, in Popayán, Colombia), will also bring together Indigenous Peoples and environmental and social organizations from across the Andean region. As outcomes of the forum we seek the reaffirmation of 12 October as a day to celebrate freedom and the defence of pachamama (mother earth). We also hope to agree on common actions in preparation for the Copenhagen climate change talks in December 2009, and activities to promote territorial sovereignty, among others.


Highlights of the common mobilization agenda for 2009 will include Indigenous Peoples’ gatherings in Brazil at the WSF (January), the USA and Colombia (April), and Peru (May); participation in a global week of action against social and ecological debt, the global day for freedom and the defense of pachamama, and global food day (all in October); and many actions in support of climate justice in December. There is also a proposal to organize a thematic World Social Forum about the crisis of civilization, in 2010.

with thanks to our funders: the isvara foundation


Photo credits: CENSAT Agua Viva / FoE Colombia

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