Climate Change – NCAI

Attorney: Kim Jerome Gottschalk

After several years of fruitful partnership, NARF has recently begun representing NCAI climate change matters. Climate change is one of the most challenging issues facing the world today. Its effects on indigenous peoples throughout the world are acute and will only get worse. The effects are especially pronounced in Alaska where as many as 184 Alaska Native villages are threatened with removal. (See Alaska Report) NARF, in addition to working with some of its present clients on this issue, previously worked with NTEC on comprehensive federal climate change legislation. NTEC, NARF, NCAI and the National Wildlife Federation worked together and created a set of Tribal Principles and detailed legislative proposals. Unfortunately, these efforts stalled in the Senate.

NARF and NTEC attended the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Summit-COP 15- in Copenhagen, Denmark in December 2009. The purpose of the UNFCCC process is to come up with an international treaty governing emissions of greenhouse gases.

NARF and NTEC also attended COP 16 in Cancun in December 2010. A Cancun Agreement was reached, likely saving the UNFCCC process. The agreement contains increased, though inadequate, mentions of indigenous peoples and of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP. There are safeguards calling for “The full and effective participation” of indigenous peoples in Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) activities and there are also some references to taking into account traditional indigenous knowledge.

image of earth on fireAt COP 17 in Durban, South Africa, November – December 2011, the countries established a new Ad Hoc Working Group for Enhanced Action (ADP). The countries committed to adopt a universal legal agreement on climate change as soon as possible, but not later than 2015, to go into effect by 2020. Based on this commitment, a core of countries; led by the European Union agreed to a second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol (to which the U.S. is not a party). In addition, the Green Climate Fund, which is to be the major source of funding for international mitigation and adaptation activities was agreed to and can start receiving funding. But no progress was made regarding an assessment of whether safeguards for indigenous rights are being implemented.

At a two week session in Bonn in May 2012, the new ADP could not even agree on the agenda until the last day. Informal sessions were held in Bangkok, Thailand in August and September, 2012 to prepare for COP 18 which was held in Doha, Qatar in November and December, 2012. The outcome at Doha was generally anemic. A second period for the Kyoto Protocol was approved with weak emissions reduction commitments by countries accounting for a modest percentage of world-wide emissions. COP 18 resulted in nothing solid in the way of commitments from non-KP countries, and nothing as to financial commitments to developing countries. These are matters for the ADP in upcoming meetings. The can was kicked down the road once again. Further, Indigenous Peoples, along with other constituencies found their already limited rights to make interventions curtailed even more, as usually only 2-3 entities were allowed to speak. On a brighter note, the head of COP 18 attended an indigenous caucus meeting and expressed support. The caucus asked in a letter that Qatar support a meeting between indigenous peoples and friendly states before COP 19 in Warsaw, Poland. No reply was ever received and COP 19 is to be held in November.

The first meetings on the specifics of the new protocol to be adopted by December 2015 were held in Bonn in April/May and June, 2013. NARF attended all of the April /May meeting and part of the June meeting on behalf of NCAI. NARF was the only one to make a brief statement on behalf of the indigenous view-point at the April/May meeting. This intervention can be viewed at So far, the process is very slow and developed countries are spending a lot of time on general concepts, but no specific language has been proposed yet. NARF will be attending the COP 19 meetings in Warsaw, Poland in November and it remains to be seen if drafting will begin in earnest.

You can watch NARF staff attorney, Kim Gottschalk‘s statement to the ADP in Bonn, Germany, on May 3, 2013 on the NARF YouTube channel.

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