Humanity inseparable from nature, Indigenous leaders remind Canada-Mexico climate forum

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Human beings have forgotten their fate remains intertwined with that of the planet, Indigenous representatives reminded world leaders on Monday at a virtual event involving Canada and Mexico.

The two governments have taken up the work of examining “nature-based solutions” meant to help countries become more resilient in the face of a worsening climate crisis by taking advantage of elements already in the landscape in a sustainable way.

On Jan. 25, they organized a forum on that topic as part of the two-day Climate Adaptation Summit, which heard from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry and other high-level officials.

“We should accept and honour our relationship with every form of life, and all the elements that represent the whole of creation throughout the universe,” said Adelfo Regino Montes, head of the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples of Mexico, during the forum.

“This is a basic component that human beings have unfortunately forgotten.”

Deputy Grand Chief Mandy Gull, from the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee in northern Quebec, explained how the nation has been working over the past 15 years towards enhancing levels of protection with the Quebec and federal governments.

The nation has been able to weave together two sets of data from the Quebec government’s approach to its biodiversity goals, and a Cree-led data collection effort with focus groups taking into account the activity of the full-time hunters and trappers who have developed a close relationship with the territory.

“The thing that was interesting was that traditional information collected on the Cree side highlighted almost entirely the same biodiversity target areas that Quebec had chosen,” said Gull.

“So culture and traditional knowledge go hand-in-hand because it is based on an extensive relationship that’s interwoven with the existence of our territory."

Indigenous representatives around the world came to three main conclusions about using nature to tackle the climate crisis, following a series of consultations, Regino Montes said.

For one, “all solutions are nature-based and should be based in nature,” he said. “These are types of practical knowledge that our people have been pursuing since time immemorial because of their intrinsic material and spiritual relationship with Mother Earth.”

As well, such nature-based solutions “should always be respectful of Indigenous Peoples’ rights,” should accept “their governance and their knowledge” and should be “context-specific,” meaning nature can’t be separated from culture.

“Our Indigenous sisters and brothers have affirmed that it must be recognized that ecosystem restoration requires a cultural and spiritual connection, applying a human-rights based approach,” he said.

“There is no division between culture and nature, nor should any culture be allowed to have dominion over nature.”

The summit also heard from Inger Andersen, the executive director of the UN Environment Programme and the undersecretary-general of the UN, who called on Paris Agreement signatories to live up to their promise to help poorer nations better adapt to the climate crisis.

Under Article 9 of the Paris Agreement, Canada and other nations promised to use their considerable financial power to achieve a “balance” between their efforts to cut carbon pollution and slow climate change, and parallel efforts to help nations around the world adapt to a changing climate.

But the World Bank has estimated 100 million people are at risk of falling into poverty without greater climate action. Andersen’s organization recently revealed global finance is falling far behind in meeting the $70-billion annual cost of climate adaptation borne by developing nations.

“We are not doing enough, and it is the poor who suffer the most,” she said.

“We have to live up to what we promised in Paris, it’s as simple as that. Adaptation finance remains at about five per cent … that is not acceptable.”

Federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, who gave a speech at the forum, said Canada’s updated climate plan, which the Canadian government released last month, “recognizes the fundamental link between nature, a stable climate, human well-being and sustainable development.”

The plan proposes a number of measures such as raising the rising federal price on carbon pollution, cutting energy waste, promoting hydrogen fuel cells and using carbon capture technology as well as “nature-based solutions.”

That would, in theory, allow Canada to exceed its Paris target of 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, instead leading to about a 32 per cent cut. Canada will also have to make up for lost time, as it has been projected to overshoot its 2030 target by 15 per cent.

The plan, said Wilkinson, “aims to embrace the power of nature to cut pollution, clean our air and make communities more resilient to extreme weather.”

Wilkinson said Ottawa is trying to help Canadians take up “nature-based solutions” in their own backyards, for example, by focusing on certain requests from municipalities for funding related to tornadoes, flooding and other extreme weather that propose “natural infrastructure.”

He also pointed to the establishment of the Edéhzhíe Protected Area in the Northwest Territories, the first Indigenous-protected area that was established as part of Budget 2018.

In a two-minute statement at the outset, Trudeau said the “voices of young people” are needed to continue to take on the challenge of climate change.

“Canada has outlined a strong climate plan that will adapt to the impacts of climate change, create jobs and build a cleaner, more competitive country for everyone,” he said.

Kerry, the U.S. climate envoy, made a speech during the conference’s opening remarks, where he expressed “humility” for American absenteeism on the world stage during the Trump administration when it came to tackling the climate crisis.

He said the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden will “do everything in our power to make up for it.”

Kerry noted that the world has just nine years left to hold global average temperature rise to the low end of the Paris Agreement pledge, according to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“I regret that my country has been absent for three of those years,” said Kerry.

Former U.S. president Donald Trump announced in 2017 that the country would abandon the Paris Agreement. In one of his first acts in office this month, Biden ordered the country to rejoin the agreement.

“President Biden has made fighting climate change a top priority in his administration. We have a president now, thank God, who leads, tells the truth and is seized by this issue,” said Kerry.

He said the U.S. has already begun work on a new carbon pollution reduction target for the next UN climate conference, known as a nationally determined contribution, and would be announcing it “as soon as practicable.”

The Biden administration also intends to make “significant investments in climate action,” including through international climate finance, said Kerry.

Carl Meyer / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

Carl Meyer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer