Indigenous folk find voice in climate fight

progress finally made at Poland conference

Sustainable growth: Workers install solar cell panels on the roof of a private company's parking lot. Solar power is gaining more popularity among public and private agencies in Thailand as a way to support alternative energy and reduce the agencies' cost. (Photo by Chainat Katanyu)

Indigenous people at the COP24 conference in Katowice, Poland called on the world to recognise their knowledge of climate action and climate change mitigation.

While international media portrayed the results of this week's climate negotiations as being doomed, Kittisak Rattanakrajangsri, chairman of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) and acting president of the Council of Indigenous People in Thailand, has some good news.

Mr Kittisak, along with native people around the world, has made many attempts to make climate conferences recognise the voices of indigenous people, who are often affected by and live on the frontlines of climate change.

There was finally some progress at the recent 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

On the sidelines of COP24's high-level segment, multiple parties, including community representatives from around the world, indigenous peoples and some state players co-launched the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform (LCIPP)'s Facilitative Working Group to further engage local communities and indigenous peoples in UNFCCC talks.

The working group will work over the coming years to promote local and indigenous knowledge in the battle against climate change.

The platform will be a mechanism for communities to share experiences and best practices on mitigation and adaptation in a holistic manner.

They hope this local knowledge will become part of a global solution, and become recognised in the implementation of the Paris Agreement, an agreement within the UNFCCC framework which aims to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, increase adaptation capacity and set up financial mechanisms to support climate action starting in the year 2020.

This marks positive progress for COP, said Mr Kittisak. Non-state parties could have opportunities to make their voices heard in the climate conference that often highlights the speeches of high-level leaders and state players.

The positive progress happened in the shadow of COP24's struggle to help countries adhere to the Paris Agreement's "rulebook" -- the guidelines defining how climate action should be implemented and regulated.

"We, indigenous peoples, are continuing to sustainably manage our land, territories and resources through traditional knowledge that is important in achieving the targets of the Paris Agreement," said Mr Kittisak during COP24's side event, "Realising the Vision of Paris: Incorporating Rights in the Implementation Guidelines" co-organised by AIPP and international organisations.

Since the first COP meeting was held in 1995, the priority has been given to government parties and scientists, with very few discussions about the integration of local and indigenous practices into climate action.

"A spatial overview of the global importance of Indigenous lands for conservation", a study recently published in the Nature Sustainability journal, points out that indigenous peoples make up less than 5% of the total world population.

However, they manage or hold tenure over 25% of the world's land surface and support about 80% of the global biodiversity.

Their exercise of traditional land rights is central to the implementation of several global conservation and climate agreements, says the report.

Mr Kittisak, who is from the Mien tribe, an ethnic group in northern Thailand, told the Bangkok Post that Thailand has also witnessed indigenous people's practices contributing to climate mitigation.

Lua ethnics, for example, avoid farming on lands near headwaters to preserve forests and prevent drought.

Karen ethnics in northern Thailand adopt crop rotation practices, in which they usually move the farm plots every year to let the soil rest and accumulate nutrition.

Maniq people, the only hunting and gathering tribe in the southern region, collect wild plants so they can preserve food for the next harvest seasons.

These people are often affected by impacts of climate change such as extreme weather, water resource scarcity and increasing wildfires and invasive species.

On the other hand, some traditional Thai farmers have for many years adopted local knowledge, including plant diversification and water management methods.

But most local knowledge has often been overlooked by scientists.

Local practices have also been replaced by commercial monoculture practices to serve capitalist markets and industrialisation since the 1960s.

"We want to make the [LCIPP] platform substantial in the next couple of years," said Mr Kittisak.

"We hope we can play a part at the policy level," he said.

"Voices of indigenous people and local communities matter."

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