A recent report released by the United Nations revealed that 74% of speaking time at the U.N. climate talk negotiations is taken up by men. Yet women are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change and targeted when defending the environment. As COP26, the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, wraps up this week, it is clear that the voices of those most impacted by climate change—especially Indigenous communities—are often ignored or silenced. Reporting from COP26, Vogue spoke with four Indigenous activists fighting for climate justice. Their demands to keep fossil fuels in the ground, for Indigenous sovereignty, and for an equitable transition to renewable energy are essential to human rights, and to keep the rising temperatures from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius. If the planet warms even half a degree more, it would be a death sentence for frontline communities.
Begay, she/her, is Diné and Tesuque Pueblo of New Mexico. She is director of NDN Collective’s climate justice campaign, a member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, and a speaker at the World Leaders Summit at COP26.
The Indigenous Peoples Caucus is bringing to the forefront at COP26 the demands to change Article 6 of the Paris Agreement to acknowledge the rights of Indigenous peoples. As it currently stands, Article 6 promotes false solutions such as carbon trading and carbon offsetting, which is a market-based solution that displaces Indigenous peoples primarily in the global south. It is also beginning to create land grabs in other parts of the world. Our amendments demand our rights are at the center to prevent further harm to Indigenous communities by governments and industries. The first climate scientists were Indigenous peoples; we’ve understood how ecosystems work longer than anyone else. When it comes to protecting biodiversity, Indigenous people need to be at the center. Our knowledge and expertise around these issues is not always understood or taken seriously.
At COP26, the public is being fooled into thinking that net zero is a solution when in reality, carbon market models assist governments and corporations to continue business as usual without reducing emissions. It’s our job, as climate organizers and human rights advocates, to pull the veil on these so-called solutions. The quickest way to keep the planet below a 1.5 degree Celsius warming is to keep fossil fuels in the ground. This means no drilling in the Arctic, shutting down pipelines such as Dakota Access Pipeline, and ending Line 3. Our entire world needs to assess how we live and if it is worth driving our planet into ecological collapse to maintain capitalism. We need to ask ourselves: Do we need more stuff? Or do we need to save our lives?
India Logan Riley
Logan-Riley (Ngāti Kahungunu, Rongomaiwahine, Rangitāne), they/them, is a student, climate justice advisor at ActionStation, and co-founder of Te Ara Whatu, an Indigenous youth climate change organization working at the intersection of climate change and Indigenous sovereignty.
Where I’m from, Aotearoa (New Zealand), has become a source of industrial agriculture used to feed livestock that produce dairy for the rest of the world. This means our lands and four rivers are not well. The whole region is on the brink of ecological collapse. We are also dealing with sea level rise; a house was pulled into the ocean just down the road from us. We don’t talk about New Zealand as a frontline nation because it falls in the global north, but it is part of the sacrifice zone. While I’ve been here at the climate talks, just up the coast from where my family is, they experienced three months of rain within 48 hours, and had to put mass evacuations in place.
We must have Indigenous-rights safeguards in the text of climate agreements so countries don’t abuse Indigenous rights to meet their climate action plans. There is a danger that the system will continue to do harm in the effort to reduce emissions if we don’t address the climate crisis in a way that centers justice. It’s really important to understand what COP does and what it can’t do. It can’t save the world; those are our responsibilities back home. But it’s important that we as Indigenous people show up here to leverage the moment and continue to hold space for actual solutions. Even intergenerational equity in the preamble of the Paris Agreement is a little win that can be used to leverage bigger wins later on.
COP is a moment in this movement for climate justice, the hard work comes afterward. I am inspired by the relentlessness of Indigenous peoples who keep coming back here to fight for provisions that keep Indigenous people safe.
Siddiqa, she/her, is the Pakistani American co-founder of Polluters Out and Fossil Free University.
How can this conference suggest that they are helping create the solutions when they have handed the pen to the villains? Oil isn’t explicitly addressed at COP26 as the leading cause of the climate crisis. What does that mean for rhetoric? What does that mean for trade? What does that mean for policy? It means you get to dance around the problem. The truth is missing from this conference.
The conference that is supposed to be solving the climate crisis is being funded by polluters and fossil fuel companies including Unilever, National Grid, and ScottishPower/Iberdrola. There are companies targeting the youth, like One Young World, which was a content partner for many panels inside and outside of COP. One Young world’s partners include BP and Shell. Shell, Chevron, Exxon, Siemens know better than to have their logos displayed at COP.
I have a very simple demand. Polluters out. We are demanding a conflict-of-interest policy within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This means not just the removal of corporate sponsorship, but the prevention of lobbying, and the prevention of making line edits in the Paris climate agreement. This conflict-of-interest policy is not a pipe dream. It’s not like we’re demanding too much. It has been done before. The precedent was set by the World Health Organization when they banned big tobacco from their health conferences, and the impact was tremendous. And we know today the culture around tobacco has changed: Tobacco is heavily taxed and its power has been reduced dramatically. That started at the United Nations. Now, the same nations that signed those policies are preventing a conflict-of-interest policy to address the climate crisis.
The reason why we have the 1.5 degree threshold in the Paris climate agreement is because island nations stepped up and demanded it. Diversity changed legislation. Diversity of voices, of people of color, races, genders—it gives us nuance and deeper understanding. I think it is mind-boggling that diversity is lacking at the United Nations, a global gathering of nations. When I am with Indigenous, Black, and brown communities, I see a glimmer of hope. Because their lives and the lives of the generations that came before them have all been about protecting Earth.
Frederick, she/her, is a mother of Tahltan, Kaska, and Black American ancestry. She is a Climate Justice Organizer with NDN Collective, a Petaluma Climate Action commissioner, and an editor at Loam magazine.
The U.K. government promised this would be the most inclusive COP ever, but the reality is that it’s the most exclusive. There are issues with visas, quarantining, and red-listed countries, which are countries from the global south. A lot of the people who can’t access this space are Indigenous. These convenings are unjust and inequitable. We need Indigenous negotiators and we need them to be sitting in meetings where policy is being created. In these spaces we had to fight just to have our rights recognized. Now, we are at a time where states are actually sitting with us. It’s an important step that our elders have been fighting for for decades.
It’s also important to remember we are moving through spaces at COP26 with people who do not care if our people and the children in our communities survive. They sleep okay perpetuating this climate crisis. As a mother, I know that there is something in me that is unswayable. I can never be bought out, there is nothing that would ever matter more to me than the well-being of my child and his future. I’m at COP to seed another way and another future. One of the elders said the other day that the ultimate test is to come to COP and to stay Indigenous.
The reality is that we are all in a state of suffering right now, and the global majority is in poverty and living on the edges of climate change. The countries that are wealthy are in a state of spiritual displacement; they have lost a connection to themselves. Oftentimes it’s really hard for me to convey the weight of coming to a space like this and the responsibility to get the work right. You have to be brave enough to let the world in. Our land, our water, our women and children are all at stake. And yet, Indigenous people are holding emissions down by standing in the way of industry coming in and pillaging, by stopping pipelines, mines, and dams. Global Witness reported in 2020 that more than four environmental organizers were murdered each week for doing the work that benefits all of us: protecting the environment. The human rights group I am a part of received an urgent message last night about Claudelice Silva dos Santos—a Brazilian forest defender and COP26 delegate who was called by local community members of Acampamento São Vinicius (Fazenda Tinelli)—fleeing from armed invaders. She said that her struggle encompasses the right to land and to life. Our consumptive lifestyles are tied to people dying. That’s what this is all about.
The UN Climate Change Conference (the official name for climate Conferences of the Parties) has happened every year since 1995. The two-week summits are an important space for stakeholders to discuss the climate crisis on a global level. These annual conferences bring together those that have signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an international environmental treaty addressing climate change .Each year representatives from every party come together to discuss action on climate change in what is known as a COP. The 26th COP was meant to take place in Glasgow, UK last November, but it was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 26) to the UNFCCC was originally scheduled to take place from 9-19 November 2020, in Glasgow, UK. On 28 May 2020, the COP Bureau decided that it would take place from 1-12 November 2021, in Glasgow, UK.
The Global Alliance of Territorial Communities and the Land Portal Foundation recently teamed up to ask each of you how we can better promote Indigenous land rights and voices at the COP26. We invite you to browse the short videos we have gathered.
World leaders are failing ordinary people on climate change. From Fairbourne in Wales to China and Japan; the Amazon and Congo rainforests to the Pacific Islands – here are some of the people our leaders should be listening to at the COP26 global climate talks.
World leaders are meeting this week at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow to agree stronger pledges to stop the world warming to dangerous levels.