Filipinos who lost homes, lands fly to Dubai, call for protection of indigenous rights

Activists attending UN Summit in UAE are intensifying their pleas for active participation and equitable representation in the recently established loss and damage fund

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Angel Tesorero

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Nedlloyd Yang-Ed Tuguinay shouts slogans at a protest along with rural people who have united for food, land and climate justice at COP28 in Dubai. Photo: Neeraj Murali
Nedlloyd Yang-Ed Tuguinay shouts slogans at a protest along with rural people who have united for food, land and climate justice at COP28 in Dubai. Photo: Neeraj Murali

Published: Thu 7 Dec 2023, 6:18 PM

Last updated: Thu 7 Dec 2023, 9:38 PM

Helen Magata and Josefa Isabel Tauli have travelled from the mountains of the Philippines to the golden sands of Dubai. Their mission extends beyond raising awareness at the ongoing COP28; they carry a vital message calling for climate justice 'by protecting indigenous peoples' rights.'

As the two-week UN Climate Summit has reached its midway point, environmental activists like Magata and Tauli are intensifying their pleas for active participation in climate negotiations and, more specifically, equitable representation in the recently established loss and damage fund.

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This fund, conceived to aid vulnerable communities in mitigating the costs of escalating climate-related disasters, marked a historic moment on November 30 with an initial commitment of more than $420 million led by the UAE. However, Magata and Tauli assert that the true challenge lies in ensuring that these financial resources are channelled directly to the communities most affected by climate change, particularly the indigenous groups, bypassing intermediary entities such as government units or large corporations.

"The realisation of the fund is an achievement after years of assertion by climate-vulnerable communities," Magata and Tauli told Khaleej Times.

Helen Magata (L) and Josefa Isabel Tauli. Photo: Angel Tesorero
Helen Magata (L) and Josefa Isabel Tauli. Photo: Angel Tesorero

"Now, the bigger challenge is to ensure the financial resources for climate action are actually directed to support the communities that bear the brunt of climate change. We want to see the funds go directly to the indigenous communities and not through state or local government units or big corporations," they added.

Magata is the coordinator for the climate and biodiversity program at Tebtebba Foundation based in the northern Philippines, while Tauli is a member of the youth advisory group on climate change to the UN Secretary-General.

'We are made invisible and voiceless'

The women activists fear funding for climate adaptation and biodiversity conservation will go to other parties instead of them. "They (government and state authorities) decide on our behalf when in fact it has historically been our territory, and yet we are made invisible and voiceless," they said.

Magata and Tauli added: "It must be noted that around 80 per cent of the remaining biodiversity in the world – from the rainforest in South America to the mountains, valleys and rivers in Asia – are protected by the indigenous people.

Indigenous peoples are the original settlers in a given territory and their history dates back to pre-colonial times. They have distinct social and cultural traditions that are tied to their ancestral lands. Their source of living is also connected to the natural resources and the land where they live.

"We are being made victims twice over – first, when climate change dissipates our natural resources; and second, when false development projects evict us from our lands," they said, explaining: "We call them as false development projects because they don't actually benefit us. For example, if a certain territory is declared a protected area for so-called carbon sequestration, the indigenous people living there will be disallowed to till the soil for food and agriculture.

"Some renewable power projects – like the building of dams – displace us from our ancestral lands. Homes and farmlands are flooded. We are dispossessed and cut from our traditional food sources," they added.

Magata and Tauli also raised the issue of environmental activists being criminalised and, worse, killed for their actions. "In the Philippines, for instance, more than 100 climate activists have been killed in the past ten years for speaking up," they added.

Free, prior and informed consent

The activists are demanding climate solutions based on free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), noted Mrinal Kanti Tripura from the Maleya Foundation, an indigenous peoples' organisation working on environment, climate change, human rights and development in Bangladesh.

The FPIC is a framework mandated by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It aligns with their universal right to self-determination "to provide or withhold/ withdraw consent, at any point, regarding projects impacting their territories."

Tripura said climate change adaptation should strike a balance between curbing emissions, protecting nature and indigenous communities, and boosting food security. He added climate finance should not drive more debt for developing countries in the name of funding development projects.

"All processes must have free, prior and informed consent before dealing with projects in the communities," Tripura underscored, adding: "Fund must go directly to indigenous peoples, and we should have actual representation in the climate fund."

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