Indigenous peoples threatened by large “green” projects
“Safeguarding the rights of Indigenous Peoples in business-driven climate action” is the side event that informs us about the colonial logic that is threatening the lands of indigenous peoples to create large renewable energy plants.
By Emanuele Rippa
Yesterday afternoon at the COP27 a side event focused on the need to safeguard the rights of indigenous peoples from the increase of renewable energy projects and the extraction of transition minerals on their lands. In fact, without safeguards these projects, increased together with the flow of climate finance, risk to violate the rights of indigenous peoples and not to help the fight against the climate crisis.
The need to open a dialogue on the importance of respecting indigenous communities and obtaining their free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), before approving any project affecting their lands, emerges from the continuous increase of land grabbing cases.
Two spokespersons from indigenous communities attended the conference: Áslat Holmberg, from the Saami indigenous community in Norway; and Rodion Sulyandziga belonging to the indigenous Udege community, which lives in the territories of eastern Siberia.
The two reported their experiences regarding land grabbing and the pollution of the environment by large companies active in the most important sectors for the energy transition.
Áslat reported the story of his community and of the families unable to carry on their livelihood activities due to the construction of a huge continental wind farm, the largest in Europe, on their territory. The park, which has 151 wind turbines and 130 km of connecting roads, was built without the consent of the Saami people, who from the outset made it clear that this project would have violated their rights and restricted their access to their own lands.
Rodion, on the other hand, told how his community and the Russian Arctic are threatened by the Nornickel company, one of the largest nickel and palladium extractors in the world, from which also Tesla purchases the materials for its batteries. For indigenous peoples, the Arctic is not a dead region, but a living and fundamental space, but the Russian government has great interest in this area, rich in minerals, oil, gas and diamonds. The severe side effects of the extractive industries in the area became extremely clear in May 2020, when 21 tons of fuel were lost in the surrounding tundra, rivers and lakes due to an accident.
Following these testimonies Eileen Mairena Cunningham, observer from the South of the Green Climate Fund, highlighted in this regard the criticalities of the institution’s funding. Cunningham explained that despite the Green Climate Fund having guidelines, a defense group and an advisory group for indigenous communities, projects approval is always very difficult to monitor and the fundings often end up in the hands of large banks such as the World Bank. This is because the proposals are so technical that it is difficult for people belonging to indigenous communities to even understand them.
While the beneficiaries of the funding are blind to the needs of indigenous peoples and try to follow paths that do not involve collaboration, the guidelines of the Green Climate Fund should ensure that the fund not only does not harm these peoples, but that it intentionally does their interests. To do this, the declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples should be used as a guiding document for the financing of projects in their territories, to which consent should be the only possible way of access.
Áslat recalled that the laws of colonial governments, based on the presumption that these states have the right to take the lands of indigenous peoples and decide what to do with them, are the basis of the system that got us into a climate and ecological crisis. Governments should understand that protecting indigenous peoples’ lands is itself climate action.
Finally, Áslat declared: “Every land grabbing action is painted with green paint, with the excuse that it is necessary to colonize our lands to save the planet, but emissions continue to rise, it is time to admit that this is not the solution!”.