African Peoples’ Counter Cop: Resisting False Solutions to Advance Climate Justice & Biodiversity Protection
Ahead of COP 27, which will be held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt and COP 15 which will be held in Montreal, Canada; ESCR-Net in partnership with Natural Justice, the African Civil Society Biodiversity Alliance, and the African Climate Justice Collective convened a mutual exchange session on 21 October 2022 as part of the African People’s Counter COP. This event was titled: Resisting False Solutions - Safeguarding the Right to Land & FPIC to Advance Climate Justice and Biodiversity Protection.
The discussion featured interventions from panellists who are members and allies of ESCR-Net and included Christine Kandie (Endorois Indigenous Women Empowerment Network), Radiatu Sheriff (Natural Resource Women Platform), Glory Lueong (FIAN International) and Delme Cupido (Natural Justice).
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The world is currently in the midst of climate and biodiversity crises of unprecedented scale. These two crises are closely interconnected and there is no possibility of transformative solutions if these environmental emergencies are addressed in isolation. The multilateral spaces (whether under the secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change or the secretariat of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity) where solutions to address these crises are primarily discussed may differ, but a cross-cutting reality is that these accelerating and mutually reinforcing crises, their structural drivers, and even certain solutions or rather ‘false solutions’ seriously impact Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ human and environmental rights, especially rights to land, free prior and informed consent and self-determination.
Given this context, the session explored rights violations perpetrated and perpetuated by false solutions to the twin climate and biodiversity crises. As defined by Christine Kandie, false solutions are, “solutions that do not address the root cause of climate change and biodiversity crisis and result in human rights violations.” They include, for example, fortress conservation attempts which dispossess Indigenous and local communities from their lands in the name of conservation or carbon markets which advance a capitalist-based solution to the climate crisis. Such solutions are often enabled through corporate capture (the widespread phenomenon of powerful corporations exerting undue influence over government decision-making processes that impact public interest and fundamental rights). The exchange also highlighted the critical importance of resisting false solutions, and advancing real solutions towards transformative change. Such real solutions include respecting, protecting and fulfilling Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities' right to land and tenure rights to advance climate justice and biodiversity protection.
Shared ExperiencesRadiatu Sheriff started off the discussion reflecting that ‘in the face of these crises in Africa, we are given a host of solutions that deepen crises and even create new problems as they are constructed, discussed, and implemented without Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.’ False solutions pose immeasurable suffering to Indigenous Peoples and local communities and manifest themselves in a myriad of ways across the continent of Africa from Liberia, to Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique, South Africa and far beyond. The panellists shared their experiences of what false solutions look like in different parts of Africa. Christine Kandie shared the struggles of the Endorois community in Kenya who were evicted by the Kenyan government from their ancestral lands around the Lake Bogoria area in the name of declaring it a protected area to create a game reserve. According to Christine, ‘we regard this as a false solution because when the land was taken by the government. They were to conserve it but wildlife in Bogoria has since declined.’ The Endorois filed a complaint against the Kenyan government at the African Commission of Human & Peoples’ Rights however, Christine recounted how ‘the Government of Kenya was required to give us back our land but to date has never done so.’
Radiatu Sheriff shared what false solutions look like in Liberia and it has similarly included establishment of protected areas as well as afforestation and reforestation which have led to massive land grabs across all 15 counties in Liberia. She further stated that ‘this afforestation has involved growing toxic trees like rubber by corporations which are shipped to Europe for industrial processes leading to livelihood of communities being cut off, soil degradation and land grabs.’ Corporations further do not live up to their promises as in Liberia. For example, the corporation promised to construct a power plant to supply Monrovia with electricity but did not do so. ‘These false solutions ignore and harm community rights, degrade the ecosystem and continue to threaten biodiversity’ said Radiatu. Glory Lueong shared similar experiences from Uganda where a lot of eucalyptus trees are being planted in the name of afforestation, yet eucalyptus consumes so much water and is thus bad for the environment. Whilst all this is happening, communities are never consulted yet their lands are being grabbed leading to their displacement.
The speakers considered why these solutions are doing nothing to address the root causes of the twin crisis but rather worsening the situation. Glory Lueong stated that this is because ‘the solutions are meant to maintain the status quo which is keeping the profits in the pockets of the capitalists and maintaining the disposed class.’ There is thus clearly a need for urgent and immediate action to ensure transition to just and sustainable social and economic models that will address the twin crises. Communities have been fighting for their rights across Africa in a multitude of ways. One of these ways has been through litigation as Delmi Cupido stated that, ‘one of the key strategies used by Natural Justice is litigation challenging corporations in court because we have a functioning court system and this litigation is community led…We recently won a case against shell who wanted to conduct seismic testing off the Wild Coast of South Africa, in pursuit of oil and gas.’ Another way communities have been resisting false solutions is through community organizing and sharing their issues in spaces as Christine Kandie stated that, ‘as Endorois we have built a strong network at grass root level to amplify our issues at international events, regional and national levels and have become members of networks so our issues do not die.’
Key ways forward
The panellists finally reflected on key ways forward, at COP 27 and far beyond, to address the twin crisis and resist false solutions to include the following:
- Ending investment in fossil fuels and transforming the energy system towards community and renewable energy systems. As Radiatu put it, ‘it’s time for those who cause biodiversity crises and climate crises to take responsibility.’
- Respecting, protecting, and fulfilling local communities and Indigenous Peoples right to land by ensuring, inter alia, they have control over their land, fisheries, and territories. In the words of Glory, ‘environment and climate are issues related to land and until we have a concrete discussion on what are the modalities of tenure rights of land, we give power to elites to set standards and continue to dispossess.’
- Building solidarity nationally, regionally, and internationally to push for the land rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. As Delmi suggested, ‘forces against communities are massive and so for one small community to take on a multinational corporation is difficult. We have to build a mass movement similar to the one that defeated apartheid in South Africa and took on pharmaceutical industries at the heart of the HIV crisis. It can be done.’
- Putting local communities and Indigenous People at the centre of discussions in that any agreement to expand protected and conserved areas must be done in partnership with them by complying with their right to self-determination, and only with their free, prior, and informed consent. This is crucial because Indigenous Peoples relate to land in a sacred way which is a direct challenge to capitalism which views land as a commodity. In the words of Radiatu, ‘forest dwellers are knowledgeable about land stewardship and practices and able to serve as early warning detectors and frontline defenders but because they are not involved it leads to tensions.’
- Pushing for a revision of neoliberal trade & investment agreements that prioritize the interests of businesses over environmental sustainability and human rights so as to ensure the solutions offered are transformative rather than false. Glory stated that, ‘if we were to have things right, we must address the structural drivers of exclusion, dispossession and inequality.’