B.C. First Nations head to COP27 seeking global leaders' attention for a 'just transition' to greener future

Chief Darlene Hunter of the Halfway River First Nation, left, will be at the COP27 conference in Egypt representing the First Nations Climate Initiative. Crystal Smith, elected chief councillor of the Haisla Nation, right, was one of the founding leaders of the initiative. (Submitted by the First Nations Climate Initiative - image credit)
Chief Darlene Hunter of the Halfway River First Nation, left, will be at the COP27 conference in Egypt representing the First Nations Climate Initiative. Crystal Smith, elected chief councillor of the Haisla Nation, right, was one of the founding leaders of the initiative. (Submitted by the First Nations Climate Initiative - image credit)

A delegation from some northern B.C. First Nations will present their plans for a "just transition" toward a greener future at COP27, the UN climate conference that begins Sunday in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) of the UNFCCC, will feature leaders from the First Nations Climate Initiative (FNCI) in British Columbia.

Representatives from the Haisla and Halfway River First Nations, among others, will be in Egypt representing the initiative, which also comprises other nations in northern B.C.

Among other things, the seven proposals the representatives will present will ask the provincial and federal governments to help the Nations achieve decarbonization and decolonization in tandem.

"We're asking for solutions that enable First Nations people to be able to pursue avenues [and] pursue their own economic prosperity," said Deputy Chief Arthur Renwick from the Haisla First Nation.

"Haisla Nation, with our neighbouring nations, are the stewards of the environment. We want to achieve net zero as soon as possible [for] projects being operational. The current regulations don't allow this through an economic perspective."

Among other policy asks, the FNCI wants the B.C. government to expand renewable energy access to the northwest coast of B.C. and invite First Nations to be partners in energy projects.

The First Nations Climate Initiative was chosen by the federal government to join its delegation at the conference. It is scheduled to make a 45-minute presentation at the Canadian Pavilion on Tuesday.

The provincial government has been criticized in the past for not fulfilling its obligations to Indigenous people with projects like the Site C dam in northeast B.C. and fracking projects across northern B.C.

B.C. Hydro
B.C. Hydro

Nature-based solutions at the forefront

In addition, the group is advocating for nature-based climate solutions — attempting to restore and protect ecosystems that have been affected by years of resource extraction.

Candace Wilson, another representative of the Haisla Nation on the FNCI, said she was "super excited" to present the group's ideas on the global stage.

"Indigenous people should be more engaged within this process at a global level because of our knowledge and our culture and how it's closely tied to the land," she told Brady Strachan, the guest host of CBC's All Points West, adding that she was looking forward to meeting other Indigenous people at the conference.

Renwick said that the area of northwest B.C. that comprises the nation's traditional territories had been "decimated" in the past due to aluminum smelters, pulp and paper plants, as well as a methanol plant.

But after the industries had left, he said fish began returning to rivers, and whales started returning to the sea.

"We've seen the effects directly [of climate change], and you can see how we can be a part of it to change these things," he said.

Is COP effective?

COP has been criticized in the past for not effecting real change and forcing world leaders to shift away from fossil fuels that cause global warming.

Temi Onifade, who attended last year's conference in Glasgow, Scotland, said the annual conference helped leaders set "benchmarks" for countries to make their own domestic climate change commitments.

The PhD student at the University of B.C., and researcher with the Canada Climate Law Initiative, said the conference was still something the world needed, even if it might not be the most effective way to drive global policies.

"Without it, we wouldn't even have some of the agendas that we have now," he said, pointing to commitments like net zero carbon emissions by 2050 that were agreed to last year.

Onifade, however, acknowledged that richer countries tend to dominate discussions at COP, even though lower-income countries face the brunt of climate impacts.

He also said oil and gas corporations spend a lot of money to lobby those who attend the event.

But for Wilson, COP27 represents a give and take.

"It's a great opportunity to network and just share knowledge amongst other Indigenous people that may be in attendance and see if our experiences will benefit them as well," she said.