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Interviews - issue #8
Where the Leaves Fall contacted global changemakers for their thoughts and responses to this year’s COP26 - the UN Climate Change Conference. Myrna Cunningham is president of the Center for the Autonomy and Development of Indigenous Peoples (CADPI) and a member (and former president) of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. An Indigenous person from the Miskito ethnic group in Nicaragua, she led the peace negotiations in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region of Nicaragua, where she became the first Miskitu governor, and was appointed coordinator of the Continental Campaign of Indigenous and Black People in 1992. 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?
Myrna Cunningham Generally speaking, we can say that it means that there is an agreement, which leads to clear and ambitious decisions to achieve the Paris Agreement. This means that all States reach an agreement on the Paris Agreement Rulebook.
It is especially important the discussion around the issue of Article 6 [of the Paris Agreement], and the issue of carbon markets. It is especially important that elements defined in the preamble of the Paris Agreement are incorporated into the decisions in this article, especially those related to the inclusion and respect for human rights and the rights of Indigenous peoples in these processes.
As well as the inclusion of robust safeguards to reduce that these schemes, from market and non-market mechanisms, affect social and environmental integrity and that human rights and the rights of Indigenous peoples are not violated.
The other point is to actually achieve the commitments to be able to raise the $100bn a year for mitigation and adaptation actions to address climate change. We are still far behind these targets. And without funds to implement actions at the local level, it is impossible to achieve a consistent response to the current climate crisis.
— Myrna Cunningham
WtLF What outcomes (and practical measures) would you like to see emerge from COP26?
Myrna I would like to see financing, especially for adaptation and mitigation actions that are implemented by the Indigenous peoples themselves; that support can be initiated so that there is a window of direct access to funds for Indigenous peoples that gives the possibility of implementing mitigation and adaptation actions in our territories from the identification of needs; the rulebook of the Paris Agreement is necessary, we hope that the negotiations reach an agreement and the states’ parties can define ambitious adaptation and mitigation actions.
WtLF How optimistic are you that COP26 will deliver positive change, and why?
Myrna We really hope that COP26 can deliver positive changes for the issue of addressing climate change, but in the negotiations in previous years we have seen stagnation in the climate negotiations and have not been able to increase the commitments of those nations that are major emitters of greenhouse gases.
The COP26 presidency has every interest in delivering to humanity a robust agreement to initiate the implementation of the Paris Agreement, and we hope that the necessary agreements can be reached so that the rulebook of the Paris Agreement is already agreed.
We are at a turning point, and many scientific studies say so. If we do not start making significant changes to address climate change the environmental effects will be irreversible. We have seen in the past weeks floods in Europe and Asia, and snowfall in South America. It is a sign that it is time to commit and work together to find the answers, it is time for the states’ parties to realise this.
— Myrna Cunningham
WtLF What do the world leaders, and everyone else, need to change on a personal level?
Myrna I think one of the main aspects that needs to change is the view that these climate change impacts will happen to others and not to us. Many people are seeing the effects of climate change in their localities, and if their territories are not affected then they do not understand it.
It is important to understand that it is a situation that affects humanity, it is also important to understand what your responsibility is, and how through small changes you can contribute to the process.
There is this analysis of the ecological footprint, and there you can see when our countries have exceeded the reserves of the planet; it is incredible that there are countries that since January and February, by way of consumption, have finished with the reserves of the planet. It is important to know how we are as a country and as people, and thus change our consumption habits to others that are more friendly to our planet.
To the leaders I think it is important that they focus on fulfilling and expanding the agreements they have established in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
WtLF Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Myrna It is important that financial mechanisms of the UNFCCC recognise that Indigenous peoples' knowledge and knowledge systems can contribute to the objectives of the convention and conditions need to be put in place to ensure full and effective participation of Indigenous peoples. This is likewise enshrined in the Paris Agreement and it should be materialised in the operationalisation of having, for example, a direct access of Indigenous peoples to climate funds that ensures that safeguards are established that respect the right for self-determination of Indigenous peoples, including free, prior and informed consent, and culturally appropriate grievance mechanisms.
Establishment of direct access funds for Indigenous peoples could provide an effective means and ensure access for Indigenous peoples and the most impacted communities.
Direct access for Indigenous peoples should be additional, may be parallel or alternative to the current modalities of climate funds that are burdensome and requires intermediaries who may not understand the context from which indigenous peoples come from.
Direct access should be tailored to the potential contributions or needs of Indigenous peoples. This should include capacity-building allocations to enhance Indigenous peoples capacities to manage funds and to be part of decision-making structures, and should come in grants, not loans, and with streamlined requirements for Indigenous peoples to be able to access them.
Efforts being made to support Indigenous Peoples access to climate finance. However they are limited and are only usually targeting and reaching Indigenous communities in developing countries. It is very important not to forget the Indigenous peoples living in developed countries, who are equally among the most affected by climate change.
Last but not least, it is crucial that climate funds must be long term rather than project based, predictable, sustainable, and include development activities that would enable Indigenous peoples to strengthen their capacities to adapt better to climate change impacts.
Myrna Cunningham meets with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet in 2016.
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