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Canada Takes the Side of Poor Countries at Climate Talks

The Canadian delegation is pushing to have indigenous rights re-introduced into the Paris agreement alongside Mexico, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Peru and small island states, such as Tuvalu and the Maldives.

by Ashley Renders
Dec 8 2015, 4:20pm

Michel Euler/AP

Canada has allied itself with developing countries on key issues at the climate negotiations in Paris, pitting it against other rich countries like the United States on both indigenous rights and tougher global warming targets.

With hundreds of issues up for debate and only a few days before talks wrap up, delegates from over 190 countries are trying to finalize a 48-page document that is supposed to become the next legally binding climate agreement.

Indigenous rights came up last week when the United States, the European Union, Norway, Australia and other countries pushed for indigenous rights to be removed from the legally-binding part of the text. They proposed these rights be included in the non-binding introduction instead.

Now, indigenous rights advocates inside the negotiations are working overtime to convince countries to change their minds. Meanwhile, others are skeptical that any of this will lead to meaningful change on the ground.

Delegates usually say they are in favor of including indigenous rights within the text, but use other countries as an excuse for blocking progress, says Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, the director of the Indigenous Women and Peoples Association of Chad. The problem is always someone else, she notes.

The Canadian delegation is pushing to have indigenous rights re-introduced into the agreement alongside Mexico, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Peru and small island states, such as Tuvalu and the Maldives.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna issued statements over the weekend reiterating their commitment to include indigenous rights in the agreement. Trudeau has also invited representatives from national indigenous organizations from Canada to act as advisors during the negotiations.

"If we don't have rights as a part of the Paris accord, then who is this agreement really for," said Eriel Deranger, a Dene First Nation from the Athabasca Chipewyan Territory of Northern Alberta.

Related: Paris Climate Talks: Only Four More Days for a Plan to Save the World

Pablo Solon, the former chief climate negotiator for Bolivia and observer at the COP21 says it would be nice to have indigenous rights mentioned in the climate agreement. But it won't matter if governments can't get their emissions under control because we will "all be living on a burning planet," he says.

On Sunday, McKenna also endorsed a call by small island states to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, putting Canada even further out of step with the United States, which is still calling for a two-degree ceiling.

However, there is some confusion over what this means practically speaking. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government won't set new emissions targets until after the climate negotiations end. And McKenna hasn't said anything about making the 1.5-degree target legally binding; Canada simply wants to set a higher standard by including the target in the climate agreement.

Meanwhile, dozens of indigenous leaders, representing groups from the Amazon to the Arctic, gathered on the banks of the Bassin de la Villete Canal in Paris on Sunday to demand that their rights be respected in the new climate agreement. Indigenous leaders paddled kayaks and canoes down the canal as banners were dropped from a bridge overhead.

Related: Toxic Tours and Civil Disobedience: COP21 - Climate Emergency (Dispatch 3)

Canada has also committed $2.6 billion over the next five years to help poor countries fight climate change, and a further $150 million to support renewable energy development in African countries.

Ibrahim says she was not surprised to see Canada take such a strong stand on indigenous rights. "We've already seen a big change in the new government. We expected that, and it's happening," she says.

"Canada's support for 1.5ºC and Indigenous rights in the Paris climate deal is amazing," said Clayton Thomas-Muller, from the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation in northern Manitoba, in an e-mail statement. Canada's commitments should mean that no new oil sands pipelines are constructed, respecting the rights of indigenous communities to say no to extraction on their lands, and switching to 100 percent renewable energy, he said. 

"Unfortunately, I'm skeptical about these commitments actually playing out in policy at home."

Follow Ashley Renders on Twitter: @iamrenders