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Interviews - issue #8

COP26: Culture, Identity and Livelihoods

An interview with Christina Henriksen

Where the Leaves Fall contacted global changemakers for their thoughts and responses to this year’s COP26 - the UN Climate Change Conference. Christina Henriksen is the president of the Saami Council - a voluntary Saami non–governmental organisation, with Saami member organisations in Finland, Russia, Norway and Sweden. Since it was founded in 1956, the Saami Council has actively dealt with Saami policy tasks. For this reason, the Saami Council is one of the oldest Indigenous peoples’ organisations. 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?

Christina Henriksen World leaders must listen to scientists and Indigenous peoples, take political responsibility and make brave decisions. Apart from strong and real commitments from all parties to halt global climate change, human rights considerations must strictly frame all climate efforts.

Implementation guidelines for Article 6 of the Paris Agreement regarding carbon markets must include safeguards and protect human rights and the rights of Indigenous peoples. For us, it is clear - human rights are not controversial, and one must not forget that states had obligations on human rights also before the Paris Agreement.

An increased emphasis on nature-based solutions in terms of, for example, conservation and protected areas has already affected our brothers and sisters in other regions of the world severely while facing displacement or restrictions, and we see it in our Arctic region too, with widespread forestry in Saami areas. We must protect and restore fragile ecosystems, but we underline that any solutions must be based on the full respect and protection of the rights of Indigenous Peoples and our right to free, prior and informed consent.

In Sápmi, we experience the negative impacts of the green transition, affecting traditional livelihoods like reindeer herding, and threatening our food security. For example, reindeer herding depends on large areas of land with different types of pastures where reindeer can graze in peace, and these areas are dramatically shrinking, partly because of green infrastructure such as wind industries for example. Climate justice must be the core of the way forward - we must not let Indigenous peoples carry disproportionate burdens of impacts when we seek nature-based or low carbon solutions.

To be able to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement, the implementation must involve civil society, Indigenous peoples, local communities, women and youth. Only a process that is inclusive, with all available types and sources of knowledge equally respected, can result in successful climate policy development and implementation. Indigenous peoples, as stewards of much of the world’s remaining biodiversity, are leaders in how to develop sustainable, resilient and effective solutions to climate change, through our knowledge and innovations, technologies, and spiritual values. Our Indigenous knowledge is already recognised within different fora, which also means that our worldview and values are as well.

We have lived on the lands and sustainably used them for millennia. It is time that we let Indigenous peoples lead the way to steer us on the right path. COP26 has to deliver positive change. Our planet and our livelihoods depend on it.

‘Only a process that is inclusive, with all available types and sources of knowledge equally respected, can result in successful climate policy development and implementation.’

— Christina Henriksen

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

Christina The seasons, as we know them, are shifting, and the Arctic, as we know it, is shifting. The Arctic region is warming at three times the global average rate, affecting all life in Sápmi, our homeland. Reindeer herders experience insecurity due to the shifts in weather and climate as winters get warmer and wetter. Quick changes in temperature are creating multiple ice layers, making it hard for reindeer to find food. Hotter and drier summers, with far fewer natural forests left, due to heavy deforestation, make it hard for reindeer to cool down in the shadows. More unpredictable weather has severe consequences for the work and livelihood of the Saami fishermen and women. The melting of the polar ice cap will continue to have an impact on many important species for Sami fisheries.

As Saami, we face unprecedented impacts from climate change, and we are at the same time coping with continued loss of land and pollution due to resource development such as oil and gas, mining and forestry. Our Saami culture and livelihoods are threatened, and we are deeply concerned about what the future holds if we do not act strongly now as a world community.

Healthy and productive ecosystems, both on land and in water, are the basis for Saami culture, identity and livelihoods, and a necessity for food security. Our knowledge, food systems and management practices rely on our collective right, and access, to lands and resources. Negative consequences caused by climate change and changes in the use of nature must be prevented and all efforts to tackle these issues need the full participation of Indigenous peoples.

All parties at COP26 need to fully acknowledge the current crisis we are in. The sixth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was clear: there is no time to wait - we must act now and drastically change our behaviours, activities and patterns that release greenhouse gas emissions and destroy nature. But creating transformative positive change now, and for future generations to come, is only possible through a human-rights-based approach, built on climate justice. Climate justice needs to permeate everything we do - from global to national and regional levels.

Climate justice is imperative because it addresses and recognises the inequities that have become visible for marginalised groups and Indigenous peoples regarding the social and economic impacts of climate change, but also the impacts of mitigation and adaptation strategies. While Arctic Indigenous peoples are especially affected by the effects of climate change, it must also be recognised that Indigenous peoples live in significantly different regions and thus, face different challenges. Through our full and effective participation, with a multitude of experiences and knowledge, we can create a climate change policy that is prominent, both in COP26 and beyond.

Photograph courtesy the Saami Council

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