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. Rodion Sulyandziga is a member of the Indigenous Udege, from the Eastern Siberia community of the Russian Federation. He is the director of the Centre for the Support of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Russia, and co-chair of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change. 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?
Rodion Sulyandziga I believe that although the year 2020 threw many of us off guard, the issues brought forward by Covid are not new. Our relationship with nature and the crisis of mistreated environment has been and is still a time bomb. Therefore, the most pressing themes for COP26 will be the same as years ago - climate change impacts, biodiversity, and sustainability.
At the same time the issues of climate crisis are now being discussed more than ever before. There is greater awareness of the impact of human activities on nature, and of the connection between human health and biodiversity. A lot of people see the pandemic as a great opportunity to remind the world about climate trauma and a massive wake up call for everyone: governments, economy, business and public.
COP26 marks the five-year anniversary of the Paris agreement. So, my hope is that its discussions will contain the answers to the following questions: where do we stand today? Have we done enough? Are we happy, or at least satisfied with the results?
— Rodion Sulyandziga
WtLF What outcomes (and practical measures) would you like to see emerge from COP26?
Rodion We are counting on parties to introduce a new inclusive social contract. We are not going to save the planet without its most loyal allies.
Indigenous peoples consistently outperform governments as the most effective guardians of nature and ecosystems, and the strongest leaders of climate and biodiversity crisis management. Significantly, the strengths of the traditional Indigenous nature-based solutions to climate change offer empowering alternatives to existing systems which are sound, ecologically sustainable, diversified and self-determined. Yet, while Indigenous peoples occupy more than half of the world´s land, governments only recognise Indigenous legal ownership of 10% of the world´s lands. The populations who need their land the most, are the first to lose it. Land grabbing, violation and ignorance of Indigenous rights is the easiest way to hold back and slow down the progress in battling the climate crisis and ultimately block climate action.
It is also important to mention that existing environmental regulations are lacking effective implementation and follow-up mechanisms. Instead of celebrating symbolic victories, contractual mechanisms must be included in every project dedicated to climate battle ensuring that pledges made by countries are effectively implemented.
— Rodion Sulyandziga
WtLF How optimistic are you that COP26 will deliver positive change, and why?
Rodion I have rather mixed feelings about the future of the climate talks. Although I have always been an optimist, it is hard to feel hopeful about a reality when the climate gets worse by the year.
My sincere hope is that COP26 will not be a simple discussion and argumentation among political and business elites on how to protect an existing economic order, maintain profits, power and control, and ultimately, determine the level of loss of Indigenous peoples' traditional livelihoods, lands and territories and Indigenous demands that those in power are willing to accommodate.
WtLF What do the world leaders, and everyone else, need to change on a personal level?
Rodion I do not think that we need more statements and reports proving the severity of the climate crisis. The issue of climate catastrophe is so foreseeable, that it should no longer require an introduction. What we need is a profound action in the climate fight, a breakthrough.
There is a clear disconnect between those experiencing climate change and those elaborating plans to save the planet. Unfortunately, those who benefit from climate inaction are more powerful than those who are on the frontline of climate impacts. Voices of affected communities must lead the conversation. We can’t continue putting profit before people and nature and we can’t afford to be patient.
COP26: We Can’t Afford to Be Patient