Activist Thunberg turns spotlight on indigenous struggle at climate summit

December 10, 2019 - 9:58 AM
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Climate change activist Greta Thunberg speaks to media during COP25 climate summit in Madrid
Climate change activist Greta Thunberg speaks to media during COP25 climate summit in Madrid, Spain, December 9, 2019. (Reuters/Juan Medina)
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MADRID — Teen activist Greta Thunberg turned a spotlight on the struggles of the world’s indigenous peoples against climate change on Monday, appearing at a U.N. summit alongside other young campaigners furious at the West’s failure to tackle the crisis.

Indigenous communities from the United States to South America and Australia have mounted increasingly vocal campaigns against new fossil fuel projects in recent years, finding common cause with the young European activists inspired by Thunberg.

Pursued by a media scrum ever since arriving at the two-week conference last week after crossing the Atlantic by catamaran, Thunberg stayed largely silent during her first official appearance at the summit, to allow a young Native American, a Ugandan, a Philippine and a Pacific islander to speak.

“Their rights are being violated across the world and they are also among the ones being hit the most and the quickest by the climate and environmental emergency,” Thunberg said of indigenous communities.

Indigenous activists argue that their communities contribute almost none of the fossil fuels emissions driving climate change, but bear the brunt of extreme weather and loss of wildlife.

Rose Whipple, of the Santee Dakota, native to Minnesota in the United States, called for an approach based on tradition and technology.

“The climate crisis is a spiritual crisis for our entire world. Our solutions must weave science and spirituality and traditional ecological knowledge with technology,” she said.

The meeting to address the implementation of a 2015 pact struck in Paris to limit temperature rises to well below 2 degrees celsius was shifted to Madrid after riots over inequality broke out in Chile, which had been due to play host.

“While countries congratulate each other for their weak commitments the world is literally burning out,” said Chilean activist Angela Valenzuela.

The low-lying Marshall Islands became the first nation to comply with a requirement in the Paris Agreement to increase its planned emissions reductions in 2018, a move bigger emitters are under pressure to follow by 2020.

Carlon Zackhras, representing the atoll nation, said rising sea levels threatened his home, which is only two metres above the waterline.

“We are having to deal with issues we did not create,” he said.—Reporting By: By Isla Binnie; Editing by Matthew Green and Giles Elgood