Indigenous voices silenced as climate conference moved from Chile to Madrid

Five of the last six COP meetings have been held in Europe

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Following weeks of protest in Chile, the Latin American country pulled out of hosting this year’s COP25, the annual UN climate talks.

To plug the gap, Spain's government stepped up and offered Madrid as the new venue. But the relocation has been problematic for the Latin American groups, particularly indigenous communities, who had hoped to attend the talks, which began on Monday.
Jorge Nawel, from the Neuquén Mapuche Confederation was due to attend the summit, but is unable to finance a trip to Madrid.

“We are really frustrated by the change of location because we have taken part in numerous meetings to co-ordinate our community with the Mapuche community in Chile as our territory is both sides of the frontier.

“We had had a number of meetings to ensure our messages were well planned and would have the right force to present to the world. The information about what really is happening here is being concealed.

“Our problems now won’t be seen by the world.”

Mr Nawel describes the “invisible fight” his community is having with a company carrying out fracking in his region, which he says is contaminating soil, impacting air quality and food sources, as well as destroying community life.

“These industries are raping our territories,” he adds. “They are messing with our habitat, they are ruining our culture and traditions. And now nobody will be able to hear us speak about it.”

The move has affected so many groups that a fundraiser was launched in an effort to help one group of young Brazilian activists to attend. It reached the Dh4657 target four days before the summit.

Indigenous groups in Latin America are considered some of the most important voices in the climate discussion, and they are increasingly under threat for speaking out. In 2018, 83 of the 164 environmental defenders killed around the world were from the continent.

This move has left campaigners disenfranchised, say human rights and environmental groups.

“The sudden venue change made it harder for vulnerable groups to participate, due to higher cost, logistics and distance,” says Gabriela Cordon, who works at the Rainforest Alliance.

“It’s highly important minority groups, who are often marginalized from decision making in their own countries, to raise their voices. They need to share their experiences and learnings from a different perspective than industrialized countries have.”

The Rainforest Alliance is funding 10 indigenous women leaders from Brazil to travel to Madrid to participate.

“We want their voice to be heard and we want them to learn from this event how they can better address climate crisis in their communities,” Ms Cordon adds. “These groups are at the frontline of the effects of climate change and this increases their vulnerability and diminishes their resilience.”

Latin and Central America are projected to be some of the worst affected areas if global temperatures rise by 4C by 2050 - as they are currently projected to do. Recent reports have suggested that the impacts of climate change have pushed Central American inhabitants to migrate North to the US.

Ms Cordon highlights that the Latin American indigenous population is particularly impacted by climate change, as their main income sources are agriculture and forestry activities, which are directly affected by the environment; rainfall patterns, warmer temperatures, higher humidity and increase of plague, to name a few.

“Making sure their voice is heard allows the decision makers to address climate crisis in a more integral approach,” Ms Cordon adds, “where consuming countries and producing countries can share the responsibility of their business actions.”

Sébastien Duyck, a climate justice attorney at the Centre for International Environmental Law, said there had been “great expectations” that the Latin American location would enable both indigeous peoples and civil society from the region to get involved in the climate discussion.

“We were really disappointed as we have been working for many months with partners in Latin America and particularly in Chile to ensure that the priorities of indigenous peoples and civil society from the region can be well represented at the COP. “

The last time a COP summit was held in the region was 2014, in Peru. The relocation of this year’s COP means five out of the last six meetings have been held in Europe, the exception being Morocco in 2016.

Although there are no figures available for the number of Latino activists who would have attended the summit,Mr  Duyck says the move to Spain will “certainly” mean a smaller representation of communities from the region. Hosting the COP in Santiago, Chile, would have been “particularly important” to bring the perspectives of people who are so vulnerable to climate change.

“Given that the difference in power and resources between governments/organizations in the North and in the South - ensuring that the COP takes place regularly in the South is critical to ensure that these perspectives are more effectively represented,” he added.