COP’s talkfest is the ultimate copout
‘I see it as a duty that young people must accept. I see climate change as an opportunity to utilize indigenous practices and reclaim cultural approaches towards living within a sustainable environment. It means standing up to big money and fighting capitalism where it exploits land for resources. I just want the future generations to have what my grandparents had: clean water; fresh air; healthy, natural food; and to understand the spiritual connection with Mother Earth.’
The statement above was one I prepared for the press when we were fundraising to make it possible to take members of Te Ara Whatu, an indigenous youth delegation from Aoteroa/New Zealand, to Germany for the 23rd Conference of the Parties meetings, which are just concluding today. The conference is the latest instalment in the drawn out process of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC).
I came to Germany with a heavy heart, conscious of the struggles of my people. As indigenous peoples of the Pacific, we face the loss and desecration of our whenua (land), our culture and our traditions. This is genocide.
Capitalism has brought nature to the point of collapse and the survival of the human race is in peril. In its aggressive commodification of Papatūānuku (Mother Earth) and natural resources (earth, water, fossil fuels, minerals, biodiversity), it has met with resistance from indigenous peoples.
I stand with all indigenous peoples of the Pacific to ensure those most responsible for climate change are held to account and those most affected by it are supported in the defence of their land rights, and their collective responsibility to care for lands, forests, our waters and peoples.
We have seen 23 years of these COP meetings – and in that time, emissions have almost doubled. In the Pacific we continue to pay the price for the West and its 200 years of carbon colonialism. While we have fought at every step to have our voices and concerns taken seriously, this conference and its participants have overseen and encouraged the marginalization and tokenization of indigenous peoples, expecting ‘performance’ and indigenous ‘spirituality’ to open spaces and please conference attendees.
I was part of the organizing team for the ‘Pass the Mic’ action at COP23, which was led entirely by indigenous youth. We demanded a decolonized climate movement, solidarity and representation. We stood in solidarity as indigenous youth from around the globe fighting against colonization in the UNFCCC. We spoke freely, we claimed space and we demanded action for indigenous peoples affected by climate change.
Our allies joined us in a circle, taping their mouths shut. With ‘Decolonize’ written across the tape, there was no misunderstanding about what we were demanding – an end to the talkfest bullshit and real action so we don’t need to have another COP.
COP in a nutshell has been: Talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk ‘Oh look the planet’s drowning & burning at the same time’, turn back around talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk.
We are in a time that calls for us to stand up and fight for our planet or lose it forever. I don’t want to see another worldwide struggle neutralized by the control of stagnant UN process and Western liberal activism.
We are not climate victims in the Pacific; we are fighting for our survival. Sadly I know that the West will not give up its exploitative way of life to ensure the survival of the lands and livelihoods of indigenous Pacific Islanders.
Born and raised in South Auckland, Noah Te Rama Thomas Pene is from a family of Maori activists. He is a communist and active participant in local organizing communities around decolonization, racism, criminal injustice and climate change.
Having worked as a kaitiaki (guardian) for the bird sanctuary on Mokoia Island with Ngati Rangi Te Aorere and as the South Auckland representative for the Morehu Youth Movement, he is attending COP23 as a member of Te Ara Whatu, the first indigenous youth delegation to leave the shores of Aotearoa/New Zealand.