Climate change governance and the role of Indigenous Peoples
For: Fabio Cresto
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the Fund of the Development of the Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean (FILAC) recently released a fundamental report on forest governance by indigenous and tribal peoples. The main results of the document, that reviews over 250 studies, is the demonstration of how urgent the need of climate action in Latin America is, and the necessity of involving indigenous peoples in the governance of such actions.
Indigenous and tribal people in Latin America and the Caribbean play a prominent role in protecting the lands from which they receive their livelihoods. By doing so, they directly help the conservation of the natural capital and therefore the stability of the regional and global climate. The lands governed by indigenous peoples, highlights the FAO and FILAC report, house a large part of global biological and cultural diversity, but at the same time “their inhabitants lack decent incomes and access to services”. It is quite the paradox, as it has been largely due to the indigenous peoples and their governance that these areas, historically, have been kept almost free of deforestation and forest degradation. As an example, in Guatemala forest concessions in the Mayan Biosphere in the Petén region have been instrumental in reducing deforestation (deforestation rates are close to zero in the areas where local communities are involved in forest governance) and the impacts of wildfires.
The report also points out how different factors are becoming a threat to this situation, as the increased demand for resources (both globally and locally), the expansion of urban areas, road constructions and other activities are driving an increased pressure – both environmental and social – on the territories governed by indigenous peoples. These new challenges, aggravated by the recent pandemic, must be faced by strong and quick actions, to strengthen indigenous governance in these difficult times. Climate change policies must include the engagement of local indigenous communities, and not only in the form of communication and dissemination of results and laws, or through top-down projects financed by central government or international cooperation agencies. To maximize their participation, it is essential to look for the engagement of the indigenous peoples already in the process of policy elaboration.
In Guatemala the governance of climate change policies and actions is a complex landscape consisting of many interacting institutions. The Consejo Nacional de Cambio Climático is the official organism that, according to the Guatemalan 2013 Framework Law on Climate Change, is responsible to regulate and supervise the implementation of actions related to climate change mitigation and adaptation in the country. Representatives from academia, the private sector, the government, and NGOs all participate in this council to discuss and regulate activities related to this pivotal topic. The indigenous people in Guatemala also send their representatives to this council, selected by the Mesa Indigena de Cambio Climático de Guatemala (MICCG), the council that collects representatives of indigenous associations working on the topic.
The MICCG was formed before the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21), to create a space for the dialogue between the Guatemalan government and the indigenous organizations to discuss public policies concerning climate change outside of the already existing official channels. At the national level, the Mesa is composed by the representatives of around 45 organizations of the three indigenous ethnic groups of Guatemala – Mayas, Xincas and Garífunas. Well-established and renown organizations like Sotz’il, Ak’Tinamit, and ASOCUCH (Asociación de Organizaciones de Los Cuchumatanes) regularly send their representatives to the MICCG. Lola Cabnal, representative in the MICCG of Ak’Tinamit, association based in the Izabál region and focused on base education and sustainable development, declared that “the formal recognition of indigenous peoples could help the change of the development model [for Guatemala]”. She sees the activities of the Mesa as a fundamental step to strengthen the capacities of indigenous peoples, to give them the tools to assume the responsibilities for being at the forefront of the climate action.
The Mesa was created in collaboration to the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN), to improve the multicultural participation in the decision-making processes of climate-related policies. The constitution of this organism was an important historical step in Guatemala, as it helps recognizing the multiculturality of the country as an asset in tackling societal and environmental issues. The council, besides taking part to the activities that regulate and plan activities for the adaptation and the mitigation of climate change in Guatemala, also participates in international events and meeting, and it is part of the global climate change committee of the indigenous people, the UN-recognized organism that represents the voice of indigenous people during international events. Ramiro Batzín, representative of the MICCG and of the Chimaltenango-based association Sotz’il argued about the constitution of the MICCG that “it is important to find in these moments [the international COP events] an alternative model of harmonic coexistence”.
The Mesa also works on issues like gender-related problems in climate governance. Ana Maria Castañeda represents ASOCUCH in the MICCG since 2014, and her work is mainly focused on the role of the indigenous women and their empowerment. “Empowerment of indigenous women in natural resource management can only pass through the empowerment of their basic rights” Ana Maria says, when asked about the role of indigenous women in climate adaptation and mitigation policies. She continues: “This is a big issue in Guatemala: most of the land is owned by men, and if we want to engage women in climate governance, we need to start by helping them owning basic resources, such as the land to grow their means of livelihood”.
Representatives of the MICCG also participated in the elaboration of the First evaluation report of climate change knowledge in Guatemala (Primer reporte de evaluación del conocimiento sobre cambio climático en Guatemala), published in 2019 by the Universidad del Valle. In this report, Ramiro Batzín and co-authors write that “The indigenous knowledge, experiences and technologies are an alternative to face the impacts of climate change in Guatemala. The creation of intercultural systems that consider both modern technologies and traditional knowledge are fundamental in the context of a multicultural Guatemala”.
Guatemala’s subsistence farmers and indigenous people living in poor rural communities are the most vulnerable and the most affected by climate change impacts. We saw it during and after the arrival of the hurricanes Eta and Iota last November, for example, and we see it during the droughts hitting the Dry Corridor and other vulnerable regions. Unfortunately, the climate projections show that such events are going to be even more extreme and even more frequent. Involving local indigenous people not only in the governance of their land, but also in the elaboration of future climate strategies is fundamental to reach a sustainable development in a changing climate in Guatemala and in the whole Mesoamerican region.