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Interview - Issue #8

COP26: Rights, Livelihoods and Knowledge

An interview with Aminatu Gambo

Where the Leaves Fall contacted global changemakers for their thoughts and responses to this year’s COP26 - the UN Climate Change Conference. Aminatu Gambo is a human rights advocate from the Mbororo Pastoralist Indigenous community in Cameroon, with a bachelor’s degree in law from the University of Yaoundé II in Cameroon. She is the programme coordinator of political participation and advocacy for the International Indigenous Women’s Forum. You can read the edited interview that was published in the print edition of Where the Leaves Fall here.

Where the Leaves Fall What do you feel are the most pressing issues for COP26 to address and why?

Aminatu Gambo This is a year that can define the direction climate action can take, both at global and national levels, as we know time is running out. As the UN secretary general said, 2021 is the make-or-break year in combating climate change. Last year we faced and are still grappling with the global pandemic and its impacts, of which the greatest link has also been the destruction of nature. Our Indigenous communities - including my peoples, the Mbororo-Fulani pastoralists - are facing restrictions in movement, which is affecting the traditional use of our rangelands and access to water, while also facing climate change impacts such as floods, drought, and heatwaves.

The last COP did not agree on ambitious climate action.

We have examples of Indigenous women in Kenya, Cameroon and Mali implementing initiatives to respond to climate change using their traditional knowledge: landscape restoration, watershed protection, energy efficient cookstoves, and the revitalisation of traditional food systems. These efforts are not recognised by states and are not supported in climate policy.

In the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), published in 1992, an enhanced Gender Action Plan is in place, but we have not seen progress in terms of governments advancing gender actions. Gender-responsive climate action that takes into account gender issues and gender analysis, and even has gender-based budgeting, can inform climate policy and action outcomes through better prioritisation of the needs of Indigenous peoples.

There is the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform (LCIPP) which had to undertake a lot of its work virtually due to Covid. The platform, which brings together people and their knowledge systems, is important for advancing Indigenous people’s role in climate policy and contribution to climate action. It requires financial and technical resourcing and support to extend the mandate of the platform work plan.

More importantly, we need a human rights-based approach to climate action. Human rights should be at the core, because climate change impacts on the very basic rights of people: the right to food, health, safe environment, right to life, and the right to culture.

‘The process for these negotiations in the UNFCCC is extremely political and is about issues of power. The focus has never been on addressing social justice, which is at the core of climate change.’

— Aminatu Gambo

WtLF What outcomes (and practical measures) would you like to see emerge from COP26?

Aminatu I would like to see strengthened human rights and Indigenous peoples’ rights within the climate action and decisions from COP26, and a commitment to advance the work of the LCIPP at national and global levels. It is a first step that traditional knowledge is respected and acknowledged but we need support and political action at national level to advance this work, including states having national level work plans to advance work on this.

We need a strengthened commitment to adaptation to climate change impacts including support for countries from the global south; and to advancing work on gender and climate change. Women and youth agency in climate action is key to its success.

I would like to see a commitment to scale up finances for climate action to countries from the global south. The financial pledges for climate action have not been honoured. And I would also like to see a commitment to addressing issues of damage and loss as a result of climate change. A lot of loss and damage is being experienced due to climate change, but UNFCCC has been slow in addressing this, even though there is the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage.

WtLF How optimistic are you that COP26 will deliver positive change, and why?

Aminatu The process for these negotiations in the UNFCCC is extremely political and is about issues of power. The focus has never been on addressing social justice, which is at the core of climate change.

But more than ever now with the lesson from the pandemic and climate impacts witnessed recently, and the way states acted with urgency to respond to Covid, is the expectation that states will commit to an agreement to tougher climate action and really work to meet the aspirations of the Paris Agreement.

I am optimistic in the power and agency of Indigenous peoples, and women, youth, and civil society organisations, in advocating for our rights, but for COP26 in general I have reservations. We know from recent reports that governments are not acting to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, their actions are not ambitious, and they are not advancing gender responsive climate action in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs or pledges on climate action under the Paris Agreement).

It is important to note that governments made pledges in 2020 regarding action on climate change, revising their NDCs. Fortunately, Article 6 of the UNFCC recognised the importance of engaging the public in climate decision making - although it does not impose any binding obligations on parties. Article 6 holds the key to people being a big part of the solution since it states that: “parties shall ‘promote and facilitate at the national and, as appropriate, sub-regional and regional levels, and in accordance with national laws and regulations, and within their respective capacities: public access to information on climate change and its effects; public participation in addressing climate change and its effects and developing adequate responses”.

I think this is key for advocacy for a socially just climate action. But COP is all about making political commitments. I do not think it delivers positive change but rather gives the will. Change is what we can see happening on the ground, that is what is important for Indigenous peoples. And Indigenous peoples have been taking actions on the ground without COP, because it is about their survival. But Indigenous peoples have also been engaging with COP, because they know the importance of the decision-making space and the impact that these decisions have. That is why they need to be in the space to influence decisions that respect their rights, livelihoods and knowledge.

‘Change is what we can see happening on the ground, that is what is important for Indigenous peoples. And Indigenous peoples have been taking actions on the ground without COP, because it is about their survival.’

— Aminatu Gambo

WtLF What do the world leaders, and everyone else, need to change on a personal level?

Aminatu I think the most pressing issue is agreeing on tougher emission reduction: we can't survive above 1.5C, nature or people. Governments that have signed up to the Paris Agreement need to scale up their adaptation efforts to support communities in building resilience to climate change. A lot of focus has been on mitigation. Communities are already implementing adaptation initiatives using their traditional knowledge but they have no support from governments.

Financial commitment to help countries from the global south to implement climate response strategies and actions is still very low. We do not see these finances reaching the countries and also trickling down to community level where action is to be realised.

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