Kyoto fails indigenous peoples on climate justice

01 December 2005

Today in the Climate Justice Centre in Montreal, indigenous peoples gathered to tell their stories of on-the-ground impacts of the fossil fuel industry and climate change in their communities. "We are hit first and hit hardest," said Faith Gemmel of the Indigenous Environment Network (IEN). "In the Gwich'in community living near the oil industry in Alaska, asthma rates have rocketed to 80% in the last two decades....we are also being affected by climate change as glaciers are melting, we lost 15% of our caribou herds from changing weather patterns. This is important because we are one with the caribou. We have the heart of them and they have the heart of us. When one is affected it is devastation to us culturally, spiritually and physically."

The Kyoto negotiations in Montreal are focusing upon the use of the financial mechanisms such as the Clean Development Mechanism that allows industrialised countries to fund projects that reduce emissions in developing countries instead of reducing pollution at home. Clayton Muller-Thomas of IEN warned "The Kyoto Protocol has put its faith in markets. How can we as indigenous peoples put our faith in these approaches when it is the market's unquenchable thirst for consuming resources that has caused the problem in the first place." He continued that the Kyoto Protocol is exacerbating the problems they face as further pollution and oil exploration is allowed to continue through the financial mechanisms which act as a license for business-as-usual. "There are 400 oil spills in my region every year. Only 5% of the Arctic North Slope is left untouched by the oil companies and now they want to take that too," states Faith Gemmel.

The event explored many communities stories of peoples suffering from impacts of oil and coal being extracted from native lands. Casey Camp of Turtle Island (the USA) broke down as she recounted tales of her people living in the shadow of the petrochemical industry. "I can tell you the names of the children with asthma. I can tell you the names of the old people with cancers. This is environmental racism. They are committing cultural genocide against my people." At this point she could not continue speaking and silence fell. Clayton's voice raises and his passion fills the void, "227 tribes in Alaska are affected by both the oil industry and climate change. The forests are burning, the fish are diseased, trees are dying because the permafrost they are rooted in is melting and the ecosystem is being destroyed by oil companies activities. We don't have time to wait, the solutions must come now."

For more information on climate justice issues and indigenous peoples see:

The Climate Justice Centre is open every day during the official talks at 2074 Rue Clark in Montreal. See the programme