Tribes: The Overlooked U.S. Climate Delegate

 

Editors Note: This piece is cross posted from Mother Earth Journal, where reporter Terri Hansen writes about indigenous people and the environment.

The Cancun dust has settled, though I can’t shake the images of tourist luxury.

As one of 10 Earth Journalism Network U.S. Climate Media Fellows I spent two weeks last December reporting the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change COP16 summit, hosted by Mexico at Cancun’s opulent Moon Palace Golf and Spa Resort.

Numbed by my own hotel’s surreal landscape, I spent room time on the balcony watching a turquoise surf crash onto the sparkling white sands favored by tourists. Never mind that they were sucked from the ocean’s floor to replace coarser gray sand, the rhythmic sound reminded me of Pacific Northwest coastlines and lessened my startle response. By late afternoon immense shadows cast by high-rise hotels sent tourists scurrying inside, and then it was just the Caribbean and me.

Dec. 11, the day I flew home delegates from 193 countries emerged triumphant after pulling an all-nighter with the ‘Cancun Agreements.’ And though I’d been there to cover the involvement of Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples at the talks, missing from the U.S. delegation was a representative for the 565 federally recognized tribes in the U.S.

Indian reservations occupy 55 million acres, or more than two percent of the area of the United States. Federal agencies are required to consult with Tribes on all issues of common interest. The tribes have requested that the U.S. include a tribal leader on their climate delegation, yet there is no engagement by the U.S. with the Tribes in these climate negotiations.

That lack of tribal representation is a grave concern of the National Tribal Environmental Council and the National Congress of American Indians. In lieu of an official representative, ITEP’s senior policy analyst and attorney Bob Gruenig, and NCAI’s staff attorney Kim Gottschalk requested three different meetings with the U.S. delegation in Cancun.

“We were stonewalled,” says Gruenig. “The U.S. delegation didn’t even make an attempt to include a tribal perspective. It was a replay of Copenhagen. Tribes didn’t get that meeting, either.

Tribes need representation on the U.S. delegation. A key element of the UNFCCC is that parties should act to protect the climate system “on the basis of equality and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.”

The principle of “common but differentiated responsibility” includes two fundamental elements. The first is the common responsibility of Parties to protect the environment, or parts of it, at the national, regional and global levels. The second is the need to take into account the different circumstances, particularly each Party’s contribution to the problem and its ability to prevent, reduce and control the threat.

Consider Alaska’s indigenous residents, experiencing some of the earliest and worst disruptions wrought by the changing climate. “It costs $100 to $400 million to move a community, according to a GAO report,” says Gruenig. “Eleven (Alaskan) villages need to be moved, but there’s no policy in place. Nor are Tribes getting any financial or technical resources.”

Another climate crisis is happening on the Navajo Nation, parts of which are drying into a dust bowl as climate changes worsen an already severe drought. The Pacific Ocean is acidifying, with negative impacts to the natural resources of coastal tribes. And so it goes.

The UNFCCC is an important forum that requires the involvement of Tribes as climate change implicates every aspect of Indigenous rights: Self-determination; lands, territories, and natural resources; the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC); traditional knowledge; and full and effective participation in all matters affecting them.

“Tribes live with the daily and disproportionate impacts of such change,” says Gruenig. “It is crucial that they become involved.”

Photo: COP President Patricia Espinosa receives a standing ovation at conclusion of the UN’s COP16 Dec. 11; Cancun, Mexico. Courtesy IISD/Earth Negotiations Bulletin. Courtesy Terri Hansen.

Essays in the Just West blog are not written by the High Country News. The authors are solely responsible for the content.

High Country News Classifieds
  • FEATURES DIRECTOR - HIGH COUNTRY NEWS
    High Country News, an award-winning news organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Features Director to join our editorial...
  • GENERAL MANAGER
    The Board of UYWCD seeks a new GM to manage operations & to implement our robust strategic plan. Details at www.upperyampawater.com. EOE
  • IN TUCSON, FOR SALE: A BEAUTIFUL, CLASSIC MID-CENTURY MODERN HOME
    designed by architect David Swanson in 1966. Located a block from Saguaro National Forest, yet minutes to Downtown and the UofA campus, 3706 sqft, 6...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Friends of the San Juans is seeking a new leader guide our efforts to protect and restore the San Juan Islands and the Salish...
  • 80 ACRES
    straddles North Platte Fishery, Wyoming. Legal access 2 miles off 1-80. Call 720-440-7633.
  • DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT AND MARKETING
    High Country News seeks a Director of Product and Marketing to join our senior team during an exciting chapter of innovation and growth. This individual...
  • OWN A THRIVING MOUNTAIN GUIDE SERVICE.
    Eastern Sierra guide service for sale to person with vision & expertise to take it onwards. Since 1995 with USFS & NPS permits. Ideal for...
  • IMPROVED LOT
    Private road, hillside, views. Well, pad, septic, 99 sq.ft. hut. Dryland permaculture orchard. Wildlife. San Diego--long growing season
  • UNIQUE INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY
    Profitable off-the-grid business located 2 miles from Glacier National Park. Owner has 6 years operating experience. Seeking investor or partner for business expansion and enhancement....
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...