Bolivia: Indigenous rights and climate politics

Victor Hugo Vela told of the problems faced by the Chiquotano tribe in
Bolivia with the controversial Noel Kempff Mercado Climate Action
Project. Into its 11th year, the project is one of the earliest carbon
sequestration scheme initia­ted by The Nature Conservancy with the
government of Bolivia. It is projected to avoid emissions of 25 to 36
million tonnes of carbon dioxide over 30 years. The buyer of the
carbon credits are three United States energy companies – American
Electric Power, PacifiCorp and BP Amoco. It is the largest project of
its kind in the world and serves as a showcase for an innovative and
cost-effective approach to abating greenhouse gas emissions.
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Vela, however, said local communities were not allowed to practise
their traditional way of life within the 1.5 million ha tropical
forest in the Santa Cruz province, north-east of Bolivia. Vela was
responding to a transnational corporation’s (TNC) official defence
that the project had benefited the indigenous people, including
securing land titles for them. “There are many problems with the
project. We still have yet to see a cent though on paper we are
supposed to get 20% of the fund administered by TNC,” revealed the
head of the Coordinating Body of Indigenous Organisations of Bolivia.
He said the 14,500 indigenous people who were affected were not
consulted when the deal was signed with the previous government. “We
only found out two months ago about the contract and we tried to
renegotiate the term but now we just want it to be cancelled.”

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The controversial project was just one of many experiences shared by rural
communities around the world that are facing increasing pressure
created by the burgeoning carbon market at the 12-day meeting.
Sceptical but cautiously accommodating over the inclusion of forests
as a mitigating tool for climate change, the indigenous communities
were dealt a blow when their rights as forest-dependent people were
not upheld at the annual climate talks.

Their request for an expert
group to represent their views in the meeting was ignored. On the
penultimate day of the summit, the United States, Australia, Canada
and New Zealand objected to the inclusion of recognition for
indigenous rights in the official text of the REDD mechanism although
most governments agreed that it is vital to avoid the anticipated
problem of land-grab. These are the same countries that did not
rectify the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples
(UNDRIP) in 2007.

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