Eliminate GDP and Economic Growth to Create the Real Green Economy Indigenous Peoples Say

Wind-solar electricity generation built by indigenous Telengits community in Russia's Altai  Mountains.   Photo:  Foundation for Sustainable Development of Altai

Wind-solar electricity generation built by indigenous Telengits community in Russia’s Altai Mountains. Photo: Foundation for Sustainable Development of Altai

by Stephen Leahy

First published at National Geographic’s NewsWatch

The planet is in peril, 3,000 scientists and other experts concluded at the recent Planet Under Pressure conference in London. Climate change, overuse of nitrogen and loss of biodiversity are just three of the perils threatening to make much of our home uninhabitable.

World leaders will meet in Rio de Janeiro June 20-22 to address this at the Rio+20 Conference, 20 years after the very first Earth Summit.

Rio+20 needs to be the moment in human history when the nations of the world come together to find ways to ensure ‘the very survival of humanity,’ environmentalists and scientists have said.

A “Green Economy” will be one of the main ideas under discussion in Rio. The idea is to make a transition to an economic system that maximizes human well-being while operating within the planet’s environmental limits. Exactly how this could be accomplished has yet to be defined.

The current economic system rewards those who exploit and destroy nature, said Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, Executive Director, Tebtebba (Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education).

The current system hinders and even blocks Indigenous peoples from practicing their traditional ways of living that actually represent “a real green economy” that can be sustainable, achieve well being and are climate-friendly, said Tauli-Corpuz, a member of the indigenous Kankana-ey Igorot community in the Philippines.

Please throw something in the tip jar before reading on. This is how I make my living.

Tauli-Corpuza spoke to me at a special workshop run by United Nations University (UNU) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) earlier this month in Cairns, Australia. That workshop was about how traditional knowledge and practices could help in reducing carbon emissions that are overheating the planet.

Unless countries are going to eliminate GDP (gross domestic product) and economic growth and begin to work holistically then they will not be solving anything, she said.

Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, Executive Director, Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education and member of the indigenous Kankana-ey Igorot community in the Philippines. Photo: IISD

In the first State of the Planet Declaration, experts at Planet Under Pressure agree the current short-term growth policies must end or humanity risks pushing past irreversible tipping points.“However, what they will be talking at Rio+20 is more economic growth with a flavour of green,” said Tauli-Corpuza.

So why is she and many other Indigenous people going to Rio+20?

“It’s a venue to present our views and to share knowledge,” she said.

In fact, indigenous peoples will host their own conference in Rio days before the formal Rio+20 Summit. Throughout the Summit they will run the Indigenous Peoples’ Pavilion to showcase their experiences on how to live sustainably.

“We are collecting information from communities and looking at the common threads of traditional knowledge that work,” said Tauli-Corpuza.

When talking to people from women’s groups, labor organizations, and many non-governmental organizations, we are all seeking the same things, she said.

Respecting human rights, and the legal and customary rights of indigenous peoples tops the list of what’s needed.

“The United Nations needs to call on the nations of the world to recognize and respect the rights of indigenous peoples,” said Johannes Bauer, an independent scientist and co-founder of the REDD+ Australia Cooperative Working Group, a non-governmental organization involved in protecting forests in Australia and Papua New Guinea.

“The key is for indigenous peoples to manage their own affairs. Governments are often the biggest unwitting obstacle,” said Bauer at the UNU/IPCC workshop.

For Bauer and every indigenous representative at the workshop, the overaching issue is the right to their land and cultural practices. Indigenous peoples are among the most affected by climate change, as well as by industries like mining, oil, coal, and agribusiness that appropriate or use their lands without consent.

Many are suspicious the proposed shiny new green economy is the old, land-hungry wolf in green clothing.

Fiu Elisara and Estebancio Castro Diaz. Photo: IISD Reporting Services
Photographer: Franz Dejon

“The values of the growth economy are at odds with indigenous values,” said Fiu Elisara, Executive Director of Ole Siosiomaga Society (OLSSI) in Samoa.

Traditional values include local self-sufficiency, social cohesion, cooperation and respect for all living and non-living things. Among Latin American indigenous communities this is known asBuen Vivir (“good living” in Spanish), or Sumak Kawsay in the language of Andes mountain peoples.

Those are the values for low-carbon living and yet governments often prevent local people from living and managing their lands in locally appropriate ways, said Elisara.

Last August many indigenous leaders called for an international moratorium on the activities of extractive industries (mining, oil, gas etc) operating without consent of local people. They will raise this issue again at Rio+20 and said that the current economic and development model has been a disaster and that a truly green economy understands “that humans are an integral part of the natural world” and respects the rights of human beings.

“We believe that our worldviews….are crucial in bringing about a more just, equitable and sustainable world,” they concluded in a public statement called the Manaus Declaration.

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