More than 50 indigenous and Afro-descendant representatives of the Black and Indigenous Liberation Movement (BILM) call on the States of the Americas to address climate change from a differentiated, non-discriminatory justice perspective that addresses historical reparations for the impacts of colonialism.
Editor’s note: Climate change does not impact everyone equally. It has been clear that people of color (among other groups) are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Indigenous people’s way of life is closely interlinked with nature. Any disruption in the natural cycles brought about by climate change directly impacts their lives. Similarly, people of African origins have been marginalized in the Americas for centuries. The impacts of which are the current sociopolitical and economic marginalization of Afro-descendents. Any crisis brought by climate change impacts them before the European-descendants.
For more on this, read DGR’s Indigenous solidarity guidelines.
11 October 2022, Quito, Ecuador. On the 30th anniversary of the first continental meeting of indigenous peoples in commemoration of 500 years of resistance, more than 50 indigenous and Afro-descendant leaders from 22 countries of the Americas met in Quito, Ecuador, to discuss historical claims, racial and climate justice, mutual solidarity, the role of Afro-descendant and indigenous movements in social change, new tendencies in political claims and the role of the peoples in international advocacy spaces.
In the context of this meeting, the leaders are making a strong international call demanding that negotiations at the next United Nations Climate Change Summit (COP27) be approached from a climate and racial justice perspective. COP27 will take place from 6-18 November in Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt under the theme “Together for Implementation”, which implies a new opportunity to move forward with the global implementation of the Paris Agreement.
During the COP27, parties will discuss climate finance, carbon markets, loss and damage, new proposals for climate change adaptation and mitigation, and the Glasgow Compact, among others. However, indigenous and Afro-descendant leaders from across the continent, gathered in Quito, expect the promotion of people-centred, multi-sectoral initiatives and projects that guarantee full compliance with their rights and are backed by measurable and verifiable scientific results. But above all they demand climate justice based on the recognition of their role in the protection of nature and historical reparations for the damage caused by extractivism to their territories and communities.
“This new global climate summit must focus on climate and racial justice, it must focus on repairing the damage caused to indigenous and Afro-descendant communities. We are not the cause of climate change, but we are the ones who suffer its direst impacts,” said Leo Cerda, founding member of BILM.
According to a report published by Oxfam and the Stockholm Environment Institute in 2020, the richest 1% of the world’s population caused twice as much carbon emissions as the poorest 50% over 25 years (1990 – 2015), yet the latter are more affected by the impacts of this phenomenon.
Climate justice considers that climate change has social, economic, public health and other adverse impacts on indigenous and Afro-descendant populations. For this reason, those who demand it strive to address these phenomena from different perspectives that do not place climate change only as an environmental problem. Justice begins with the recognition that people are affected differently by the harmful effects of global warming.
Furthermore, climate justice seeks to develop solutions that address the structural causes of climate change because doing so would simultaneously resolve a wide range of social, racial and environmental injustices. Undertaking justice-based solutions involves thinking about a structural transition, a shift from fossil fuel-based economies to equitable and regenerative systems based on renewable energy and social, racial and environmental justice; this in turn connects the climate crisis to the social, racial and environmental problems in which it is deeply intertwined and which especially affect indigenous and Afro-descendant communities. An important demand of the climate justice movements and of the BILM is to promote indigenous and Afro-descendant climate action, as these communities depend on ecosystems for their lives, livelihoods and culture, and their survival is deeply intertwined with the land and its resources.
“The promises of COP26 are still there; not much progress has been made in the implementation of the global agreements. We ask that climate finance goes directly to indigenous peoples, we can manage the funds according to our realities, our necessities and proposals that for millennia have saved humanity. The States plan without consulting the indigenous peoples, but we are trying to resolve this in open dialogue with the governments,” says Gregorio Mirabal, General Coordinator of the Coordinating Body of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA).
The Andes, the Amazon, the coastal areas of Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as some areas of the United States and Canada are territories that are highly vulnerable to the climate crisis. For this reason, BILM representatives emphasize the need for climate negotiations to go hand in hand with science and to take into account the proposals of the most affected countries and areas and to do justice to them. At the same time, they call for action to be taken against racial discrimination, which is also reflected in extractive projects and climate change mitigation or adaptation measures undertaken by the States.
The most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) addresses the socio-economic drivers of climate vulnerability and mentions for the first time colonialism as a source of the climate crisis. According to this report, vulnerability depends on factors such as poverty, inequality, lack of access to basic services and lack of security, and many of these situations are a historical legacy caused by the different forms of colonialism and interventionism perpetrated by European countries and the United States.
“Climate change is destroying the world, but it does not affect us all in the same way; there are also different tools to deal with it, and here too deep inequalities take place. This is precisely what drives our demand, not only in our region but also globally, the world’s indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant peoples, the poorest and most invisible groups are asking for climate justice,” said Leonidas Iza.
Tropical forests are affected by land use change, particularly deforestation, the increase in fires, forest degradation and the long-term loss of forest structure. The combined effect of these impacts will lead to a long-term decline of carbon stocks in the forest biomass, compromising the role of the Amazon as a carbon sink.
The region’s oceanic and coastal ecosystems will be highly impacted by climate change. The Atlantic coastal strip is where the most pronounced trend of sea level rise is observed. IPCC scientists project that coral reefs will lose their habitat and experience severe bleaching episodes every year. In addition, many marine species will migrate and leave their usual habitats.
“The impacts of climate change are experienced every day around the world, but the most marginalized communities, who are the least responsible for the climate crisis, face the most severe consequences” explained Darío Solano, Dominican Network for Studies and Afro-descendant Empowerment (Redafro), Negreta Foundation, and member of BILM.
Afro-descendant communities are also highly exposed to natural disasters and the negative effects of climate change and environmental disasters caused by extractive industries. This goes hand in hand with discriminatory practices and necropolitics. For example, Afro-descendant populations in the United States, especially those of low income and living in marginalized areas of the country, suffer the consequences of a discriminatory policy that includes the violation of their rights in environmental matters as well.
Drilling and operating oil and gas wells in residential neighborhoods exposes residents to air and water pollution, noise and other sources of stress that can increase the risk of many types of diseases. An estimated 17 million U.S. residents live within 1.6 km of at least one active oil or gas well, which means there is widespread risk of exposure to air pollutants, hazardous chemicals and other stressors.
According to the University of California Climate Justice Center, in refineries located in the California Bay Area Oil Corridor, low-income and non-white communities are most affected by the presence of the petrochemical industry. Emissions from these facilities degrade air quality in this region and expose residents to increased risk of cancer, heart disease, respiratory problems such as asthma, and other conditions.
In the United States, the practice known as redlining (housing discrimination that reduces job opportunities and prompts poverty in communities considered undesirable, i.e., non-white and immigrant) was banned more than half a century ago, but it continues to affect people living in discriminated neighborhoods.
According to the study ‘Historical Red Line and the Siting of Oil and Gas Wells in the United States’, conducted by scientists at the University of California and Columbia University and published this year in the journal Nature, African-American communities are disproportionately exposed to pollution and poor health outcomes resulting from hydrocarbon activities.
Another report published in Environmental Science and Technology Letters notes that compared to whites, African Americans and Latin Americans live with more smog and fine particles from cars, trucks, buses, coal plants and other industrial sources nearby in areas that have been redlined. Those pollutants inflame human airways, reduce lung function, trigger asthma attacks, and can damage the heart and cause strokes.
“Climate change is the most immediate threat to the world’s marginalized people. It is cross-cutting, intersectional and intergenerational, and it has effects that range from economic to health problems. It is also a social issue because it affects people’s development,” said Gema Tabares, representative of the Mexican organization Afrocaracolas, a member of the BILM.
The role played by indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples in caring for forests and adapting to the climate crisis based on their ancestral knowledge has also been illustrated in different studies; however, very few of their experiences are included and implemented in the climate public policies of their countries. Afro-descendant communities also have an essential potential to contribute to the mitigation of global warming, highlighted the leaders in Quito.
During COP26, held last year in Glasgow, world leaders committed to a path that would keep global temperature rise below 1.5 °C (2.7 °F) above pre-industrial levels. But at the current rate of emissions, some scientists say we are close to a path that will lead to a 3 °C (5.4 °F) increase by the end of this century. That would lead to a 10-fold risk of extinction for biodiversity, and could eliminate many of the adaptation possibilities still open to humanity today.
“Climate change is a war of the rich against the poor. Climate justice means an end to colonialism, patriarchy, racism and extractivism. Ending racism is a task that involves the whole of society and government policies must go beyond the usual script. Fighting racism and discrimination is a central aspect of building more just, democratic and egalitarian societies,” said Mike Bento, a member of the U.S.-based organization NYC Shut it Down.
The Black and Indigenous Liberation Movement (BILM) is a coalition of grassroots organizations that, in solidarity with frontline communities and other allies, support anti-colonial struggles in 12 countries of Abya-Yala, also called America, from Canada to Argentina. While social and political divisions proliferate, BILM stands as a union of like-minded organizations, aware of the urgent need to join forces and establish common lines of action among the different groups struggling against the ravages of racial capitalism.
On the 30th anniversary of the First Continental Meeting of Indigenous Peoples held in Quito in 1990, in commemoration of 500 years of popular and indigenous resistance and in which representatives from 17 countries of the region participated, the BILM calls indigenous and Afro-descendant leaders from all over the continent to the First Meeting for the Liberation of Black and Indigenous Peoples against Exclusion, Discrimination and the Defense of Territories.
ABOUT LEO CERDA
Leo Cerda is from the Kichwa community of Serena in the Ecuadorian Amazon. He is a climate activist and indigenous rights defender. His work focuses on the intersectionality of racial and climate justice.
In 2020, Leo founded the Black Indigenous Liberation Movement as a way to respond, establish dialogue and ask for accountability for the black, indigenous, and people of color, whose lives have been lost to hate crimes and racial violence across the continent. BILM is now a hemispheric initiative bringing together a coalition of black and indigenous communities, grassroots organizations and social movements supporting anti-racist and anti-colonial struggles.
Journalists will have access to a media room with the press release, infographics for social networks, high-resolution photographs and supporting videos.
All materials will be available in Spanish, English and Portuguese.