Climate change threat to indigenous peoples

Call for African states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Delme Cupido's picture


Senior Programme Officer: Indigenous Peoples Rights

November 17th, 2011

Indigenous peoples from nine African countries have called on African states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to move away from ‘the current economic model of growth, consumption, and lack of wisdom and accountability [that] is not sustainable and is placing life on Earth at grave risk."

The call comes in a report – entitled //Hui!gaeb, from the indigenous Khoekhoegowab name for what is now the city of Cape Town – that was issued after a meeting in Cape Town in August, during which the participants considered the a policy document on the Green Economy Initiative (GEI) released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The meeting brought indigenous people from nine countries, including Namibia, Botswana and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), to ‘develop a critical understanding of the GEI document’s recommendations, assumptions and purpose, to articulate a response, and to submit a formal statement and a response document to UNEP’.

The meeting was convened in partnership with UNEP, the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC) and Natural Justice – and supported by OSISA’s Indigenous Peoples' Rights Programme.

Among other recommendations, the //Hui!gaeb statement calls ‘on African States to reduce Greenhouse gas emissions unilaterally, and move to national and regional economies which are sustainable, equitable and assist in environmental rehabilitation and resilience’.

The report notes that ‘a sustainable low-carbon, equitable economy is not a new concept; [that it] is the basis of Indigenous Peoples’ survival for millennia’ and calls on ‘African leaders to distinguish between the inherent value of nature, and capital value of natural resources and ecosystem services’.

Drawing links between climate change and the livelihoods of indigenous peoples, and indeed all those who are being pushed into poverty due to catastrophic climate change, the report notes that ‘destroying nature’ is destroying development and increasing poverty, because ecosystems, which in many cases are the main service providers for poor and indigenous people, ‘are the GDP of the poor’.

The background to the meeting is the release by UNEP of its policy document on the Green Economy – referred to by some as ‘the new sustainable development’ – which is intended to begin to shift the discourse around climate change and the environment towards ‘transitioning to a green economy and investing in renewable energy and resource efficiency and an assessment as how this could contribute to economic growth, job creation, and poverty alleviation, while addressing climate change and environmental risks’.

The Green Economy initiative will be a key document in international policy, and is a central theme of the upcoming UN conference on Sustainable Development. It is therefore critical that the voices of indigenous peoples, who in many cases are facing the brunt of the impacts of climate change, should be heard in the Green Economy policy discussions.

It is for this reason that IPACC, OSISA, UNEP, and Natural Justice brought together indigenous peoples' representatives from across the continent, all of whom share similar concerns relating to the effects of climate change – and the economic models which propel it – on their livelihoods and their human rights. 

IPACC is a network of over 155 indigenous peoples' organisations in 22 African countries, including Botswana, DRC and Namibia – and has become the voice of Africa’s indigenous peoples in a number of international policy spaces, where policies critical to indigenous peoples are formulated and monitored. IPACC is accredited with the UN Economic and Social Council, UNEP, the Global Environment Facility, UNESCO and the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights


About the author(s)

Delme is the Indigenous Peoples Rights Senior Programme Officer. Delme was the APM in OSISA’s HIV programme from 2006-2010. Prior to joining OSISA, he was the Coordinator of the AIDS Law Unit of the Legal Assistance Centre, a public interest law centre based in Namibia. Delme was active in the international HIV Treatment Access movement, was a founding trustee of the AIDS Rights Alliance for Southern Africa, a founding member of the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition, the Pan African Treatment Access Movement and the Collaborative Fund for HIV. Delme holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Cape Town, and obtained a bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the University of the Western Cape.


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