Helen Clark: Speech at High level event on Indigenous Peoples Proposals to Address Climate Change UN Climate Change Conference – COP20, Lima, Peru

Dec 9, 2014

I am pleased to welcome you to this high-level event dedicated to the very important role played by indigenous peoples in addressing climate change.

Today’s event occurs just a few weeks after the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples and the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit in New York. At both these major meetings, indigenous peoples’ leadership and contributions were highly visible and widely acknowledged. Now these major meetings on climate change in Lima provide another important opportunity to highlight the crucial role of indigenous peoples in addressing climate change.

I thank the representatives of the indigenous people’s organizations on the panel for joining us today: your presentations on how indigenous peoples have been tackling climate change are of high relevance to the discussions here at the COP.

I commend the Ministry of Environment of Peru for its commitment to the participation of indigenous peoples during this conference of parties.

I thank the Ministry of Climate and Environment of Norway for helping to fund the participation of indigenous peoples here in and the Indigenous Peoples Pavilion. UNDP has been pleased to help facilitate this participation.

Indigenous peoples are among those most affected by the impacts of climate change, because of their dependence upon and close relationship with the environment and its resources. Indigenous communities already face many challenges – these may include outright discrimination, political and economic marginalization, loss of land and resources, human rights violations, and high levels of unemployment. Climate change adds to these challenges.

Indigenous peoples have an historical and a cultural role in the sustainable management of ecosystems. In the face of climate change, those communities have been at the front lines of the response, often reacting to the impacts in creative ways, and by drawing on traditional knowledge and experiences.

The participation of indigenous peoples’ organizations at the September Climate Summit in New York in both the plenary and the Forests Pavilion was a highlight of the strengthened global partnership which is emerging to protect forests and enhance forest restoration.

Indigenous peoples’ leaders at those events clearly articulated the role which their peoples are playing in the sustainable management of more than four hundred million hectares of the world’s forests. They reminded us that indigenous peoples often put their lives on the line to protect the forests – and that the world benefits from that stewardship. They also clearly articulated the kind of support indigenous peoples need to keep playing a leading role in climate change mitigation.

It is important to acknowledge that many indigenous peoples have not yet experienced the full realization of their rights. It is also deeply tragic that indigenous peoples’ rights advocates are losing their lives as they campaign for their rights. I express my solidarity with the families of all those who have perished in the course of fighting to protect the forests and advance their rights.

I very much hope that the significant participation of indigenous peoples at the Climate Summit and at this COP puts us on a path towards a new era where there is respect for indigenous peoples’ rights.

Indigenous people will play a major role in ensuring the success of one of the most promising global climate change mitigation measures - Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+). The majority of the world’s remaining forests in developing countries are located where indigenous peoples live, and often lie within their ancestral and customary lands.

Through a range of initiatives, UNDP gives specific attention to the role of indigenous peoples and their traditional knowledge when addressing environmental degradation and climate change. Our work includes:

• the UNDP-GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP), which provides financial and technical support to communities to conserve and restore their environments while also enhancing their well-being and livelihoods.

• the Equator Initiative, which highlights best practice examples of indigenous and local initiatives aimed at protecting their environment and reducing poverty.

• the UN-REDD Programme’s newly established Community-based REDD+ Initiative, which will provide grants to indigenous and local communities to empower them to engage in REDD+ processes.

UNDP is committed to ensuring that the voices of indigenous peoples are heard and their needs are respected. We are committed to the effective participation of indigenous people in decision-making around climate change, including by supporting their representation at COP21 in Paris next year.

To ensure that our programmes help protect and respect indigenous peoples’ rights and territories, UNDP has recently approved a set of Social and Environmental Standards (SES) for its own work. These standards place human rights at their core. They include a specific standard on how we work with indigenous peoples, and related standards on cultural heritage and resettlement and displacement. They are consistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and they ensure that UNDP will not support initiatives which violate the human rights of indigenous peoples. Any UNDP projects which could potentially have an impact on indigenous peoples groups must be designed in a spirit of partnership with those groups, with their full and effective participation, and with the objective of securing their free, prior, and informed consent.


In conclusion, let me emphasise that UNDP fully recognises the leading role of indigenous peoples in addressing climate change. We are committed to ensuring that this role is acknowledged here at Lima, in Paris, and beyond. We look forward to working with all partners present to that end.

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