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Indigenous Participation at COP21

After our interesting lectures today by Leena Heinämäki and Alexey Tsykarev, it is interesting to look at how Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic may influence proceedings at COP21, upcoming in December 2015, through the Arctic Council.

At COP17, 2001, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, former Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, gave a speech catapulting Arctic cultural issues into the global environmental agenda which, led to the Stockholm Convention banning the use of persistent organic pollutants, that move up the food chain, putting indigenous peoples of the Arctic at risk. To date, the Arctic Council has produced a number of reports that have been attributed to influencing the climate change discussion on a global level. The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), published in 2002, provided the first detailed assessment of climate change in the region, plummeting issues to a global audience and providing a scientific base for policy discussions. In 2004, this was followed by the Arctic Human Development Report (AHDR) which, gave a holistic and comprehensive analysis on how these environmental changes may impact the people of the region with close attention paid to the Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous Peoples were involved in these publications, in all stages of the process from the original idea to final output, through the Permanent Participants who represent them and through Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic who are engaged as Traditional Knowledge holders.

The current Arctic Council chairmanship is held by the United States of America, which is poignant considering their lack of commitment to the first COP. This time, it may be different. Led by Kerry, the US has made climate change a key priority for their chairmanship and with a wealth of past Arctic Council reports and initiatives behind him, the US may now take a strong lead in the discussions. Indigenous Peoples, through the Permanent Participants of the Arctic Council, will, capacity allowing, be party to all decisions leading up to COP21 and perhaps, a strong Arctic Indigenous voice will be heard.