Energy & Environment



November 24, 2009, 11:30 am

Green Business and Indigenous Rights

A new report released over the weekend calls attention to the plight of indigenous communities affected by climate change mitigation measures.

The study by Survival International, a London-based organization promoting the interests of tribal peoples, documents the impact of the biofuels industry, hydro-electric power, carbon-offsetting and forest conservation schemes on indigenous communities worldwide.

“There is an urgent need to address climate change, but this must not be at the expense of indigenous peoples’ rights,” said David Hill, a spokesman for Survival International.

According to the report, some climate change mitigation measures have led to exploitation, violation and in some cases destruction of land recognized as belonging to indigenous communities.

The study follows a statement by the World Bank president, Robert Zoellick, who said last week that it was critical for indigenous people to be included in climate change talks. “Climate change exacerbates the difficulties that indigenous communities already face,” Mr. Zoellick said in a published statement, “including loss of land and resources, lower human development indicators, discrimination, unemployment, and economic and political marginalization.”

The forest conservation scheme to be discussed at Copenhagen, which uses financial incentives to encourages developing countries to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, is also a source of concern for indigenous communities.

Previous draft versions of the scheme — officially called the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries, or R.E.D.D. — refer to the possible inclusion of the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Rights, which gives indigenous communities the right to give or withhold consent to developments in their territories.

This, Mr. Hill said, “could be made legally binding,” though it remains unclear whether it will be included in the final text.

The International Forum of Indigenous Peoples on Climate Change has expressed similar concerns.

“If there is no full recognition and full protection for indigenous peoples’ rights, including the rights to resources, lands and territories, and there is no recognition and respect of our rights of free, prior and informed consent,” the group wrote in a statement in September, “we will oppose R.E.D.D.”


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Tom Zeller Jr.After a year as an editor at large for National Geographic magazine, Tom returned to The New York Times in July 2008 to help expand the paper's coverage of sustainable energy development and green business. He has spent much of the last decade as a reporter and editor covering a variety of topics for The Times – from technology and cyberfraud to culture and politics.
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Kate GalbraithMs. Galbraith joined The New York Times in June 2008 to write about renewable energy. She spent the previous year as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, and before that she was the Southwest correspondent for The Economist based in Austin, Tex. She is an avid runner and hiker, having grown up camping most summers in the Sierra Nevada.
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James Kanter Mr. Kanter has been a staff correspondent for The International Herald Tribune in Paris and Brussels since 2005, covering European business affairs and the business of green. His previous experience includes four years in Southeast Asia, where he was the editor in chief of The Cambodia Daily in Phnom Penh. Mr. Kanter was the recipient of the Reporting Europe 2009 prize for his investigative feature on the European Emissions Trading System.
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