To Curb Climate Change, We Must Listen to Indigenous Voices

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How the Wampis’ Victory over GeoPark Can Be a Model for Curbing Climate Change

The Chilean oil company GeoPark recently announced it was dropping its attempt to drill for oil in a sensitive area of the Peruvian Amazon. The decision was a big win for the Wampis and Achuar Indigenous Peoples on whose land the project was located. The win was the result of years of community resistance, supported by global campaigning and legal actions, including by EarthRights. It’s an example of the kind of resistance that will be increasingly necessary if the world is to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and force a massive shift away from fossil fuels. Indigenous Peoples like the Wampis and Achuar are on the frontlines of this fight. We should be doing everything possible to help amplify their voices and defend their right to say no to fossil fuels and destruction of critical forest ecosystems. 

Deforestation and the Forest Defenders

As forest defenders, Indigenous peoples are key actors in stopping the deforestation that is the greatest contributor to carbon emissions. Last year, the destruction of primary forests was associated with carbon emissions equal to that of 400 million cars. There is no realistic pathway to slowing climate change without stopping deforestation.  Indigenous peoples know this intrinsically–the forest is life. This is true for indigenous communities in the Amazon, Mekong, and Congo regions. It’s increasingly true for everyone else. 

Right to consent to development

Indigenous peoples are not “anti-development,” despite ideological attempts to characterize them that way. What they seek is a recognition of their role as stewards of critical ecosystems and of their fundamental rights, including, their right consent to development that takes place in their traditional territories. This includes their right to say no to development projects – like oil installations, hydroelectric dams, and large-scale agribusinesses – that threaten to undermine their ability to protect these lands and the sensitive ecosystems they contain.

How we can help

There are a number of specific things we can do to assist efforts by Indigenous peoples to protect forests and prevent the deforestation that drives climate change. First, we can support their legal challenges to the proposed development on their lands. This is a tactic that EarthRights employed with the Wampis that resulted in a successful challenge to the company’s environmental impact assessment. Second, we can help raise the political costs to companies like GeoPark that are attempting to push destructive projects against the wishes of indigenous peoples. The Wampis worked with Amazon Watch and other organizations to effectively organize against abusive industries in this area. Third, we can push financiers to not put money into these kinds of projects.  The fossil fuel industry is dying; we need to hasten its demise by cutting off its financial lifelines – particularly for projects in sensitive forest areas.

Following the lead of forest defenders

If we are to avoid the worst of what climate change has in store for us, we will need to follow the lead of forest defenders like the Wampis and Achuar. We need to hear their voices and support their struggles to defend their lands, forests, and communities.  If we do this, we might – all of us — stand a fighting chance of defending our communities and our shared planet from the impending climate emergency.

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