Politics of Poverty

We need climate solutions rooted in Indigenous leadership–not more carbon colonialism

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Kichwa community “Doce de Octubre” (12th of October) held peaceful protests for prior consultation in 2017. Photo: PUINAMUDT

On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we must center the concerns of Indigenous and frontline communities across the globe. They are doing everything in their power to protect their rights, their territories, their cultures, and our collective futures. We join them to demand that we #BuildBackFossilFree.

Rosa Arranda, a Kichwa leader from the Ecuadorian Amazon, has been resisting the expansion of local oil production for years. “We have never consented to these oil projects,” she explained at a joint Oxfam and Earthrights International panel on how Indigenous communities are reshaping the geographies of fossil fuel extraction, “and as a consequence, our territories, our chacras, our rivers, and our bodies are treated as waste dumps.”

Decades of oil and gas exploration and production have taken their toll in the Amazon. Another leader on the panel, Omar Saquiray of the Peruvian Indigenous Federation FECONACOR, described the conditions after more than four decades of oil extraction by multiple oil companies in Peru’s infamous Block 192,

“What has oil brought us?” Saquiary asked. “Heavy metals in our bodies; rivers without fish; and…no medical centers to treat us, or schools for our children.”

Indigenous leaders from across the Americas on the panel echoed these grim sentiments from the Amazon. Fossil fuel projects—which our shared climate simply cannot absorb—are moving ahead without the consent of Indigenous peoples; roads, pipelines, airports, and oil platforms put major water sources and biodiversity at risk. Communities living in the shadow of oil extraction continue to suffer one of the worst public health crises on the planet.

In the face of these local and global threats, Indigenous leaders across the Amazon issued an ambitious call to climate action earlier in September: they demand that the international community work alongside them to shift the tide on the climate crisis, and protect 80% of the Amazon by 2025.

For these leaders, protecting the Amazon means restoring the parts that have been devastated by decades of fossil fuel extraction and deforestation, while also putting a moratorium on all new fossil fuel projects.

Given the outsized role of US and Canadian companies and investors into the Amazon basin, we put this challenge to Canadian Senator Rosa Galvez and US Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and asked them what actions should be taken to support this goal.

Please take a moment to witness the devastation, and to listen to the communities and leading policymakers:

Three messages came through loud and clear from their responses

First, both the US and Canada need more effective accountability mechanisms, penalties, and sanctions for companies that commit human rights and environmental harms abroad. This includes improved conflict of interest laws, so that oil and gas interests are not able to dictate (or delay) climate policy. We need to set legal liability for corporate human rights responsibility and close off loopholes that allow companies to evade responsibility for harms that go unaddressed.

Second, the US and Canada need stronger rules addressing environmental, social, governance (ESG) and climate risk disclosures, especially for companies investing and operating in critical bioregions like the Amazon basin. Enshrining the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including the standard of free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) in domestic laws (like Canada’s Bill C-15 did earlier this year), and requiring companies listed on our stock exchanges to disclose compliance with these international standards, would be a starting point.

Third, wealthy countries like ours have an obligation to prioritize financial support to low- and middle-income countries whose economies are dependent on fossil fuels—to enable them to transition quickly to renewable energies, to help them clean up the toxic wastes that remain, and support them to hold multinational companies accountable—while respecting Indigenous rights.

Both political leaders made it clear that Indigenous peoples need self-determination: frontline communities must inform measures like the Biden administration’s proposed protection plan for the Amazon, as well as international financing for environmental restoration, public health programs, and rule-of-law reforms. Top-down approaches to solving the climate crisis risk exacerbating or continuing the underlying, colonial power dynamics that landed us here in the first place.

Indigenous and frontline communities across the globe cannot—and should not—shoulder this movement alone. We must listen to what they are saying and show up beside them. As the urgency to respond to the climate crisis grows, and as countries fight to attract investment dollars as part of their pandemic recovery plans, competition for the world’s finite land resources will continue to grow.

We call on our elected leaders to do everything in their power to ensure the protection and realization of Indigenous peoples’ collective autonomies, leadership, and self-determination. Only then will it be possible to identify and act on just solutions to the climate crisis that put local peoples at the center.


Take action: Call on President Biden to deliver on his promise to act on climate and prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable, in the Amazon, and around the world.

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