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The world is acknowledging the impact of climate change and especially its effect on vulnerable communities. For many Indigenous Peoples, climate change isn't anything new, it’s part of their everyday life.
I’ve been looking into this link between infrastructure, the human rights community’s experiences, and traditional knowledge with the safeguard policies of international bodies such as the United Nations, World Bank (WB), International Finance Corporation (IFC), and Green Climate Fund (GCF).
Whether I am meeting with a community leader or a Head of State, I am continuously struck by the same idea: Until we recognize the value of this knowledge, of the contributions of indigenous peoples in the fight against climate change and ecological destruction, we don’t stand a chance. Fundamentally, this is a question of justice — of climate justice. Having one indigenous voice on a panel, in a working group, or at the negotiating table is not enough; instead, Indigenous Peoples must be decision-makers.
To ensure climate solutions are inclusive and effective, we must consider below four steps to understand and apply Indigenous People’s traditional knowledge as the key to helping not only the world’s Indigenous Peoples, but all of humanity, adapt and mitigate climate change.
1. Identify the causes of human rights impacts on project-affected communities
Wind and solar energy are essential for the world to reach net zero global emissions in combating climate change and advancing sustainable development. However, they are also facing increased exposure to legal, financial, operational, and reputational risks arising from adverse human rights impacts on project-affected communities, caused by:
- Land acquisition without Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) (as a right for Indigenous Peoples and best practice and/or domestic legal requirement for other local communities) and meaningful consultation with Indigenous Peoples and other local communities.
- Physical and/or economic displacement of Indigenous Peoples and other local communities without fair and adequate compensation.
- Loss of culture and traditions as well as impacts on community cohesion and identity of Indigenous Peoples or minorities via the interference with or destruction of sacred sites, burial grounds, and areas of cultural significance.
- Threats, intimidation, and violence against human rights defenders.
- Labour rights impacts and threats to community health and safety.
2. Conduct inclusive consultations by co-designing and implementing grievance mechanisms to provide effective remedy
Engagement with various stakeholders is critical in completing a risk assessment not only for gathering relevant information on vulnerabilities, capabilities, needs, existing knowledge, and practices for risk management but also for gaining the trust of users on the quality of results.
However, the processes do not always include proper consultations and engagements with the communities, nor do they include indigenous knowledge and practices. Many quantitative assessments only focus on hazard modelling without insights into exposed assets and potential damage and losses, such as the case of wind and solar project deployment quantitative assessments.
What can be done to ensure indigenous voices are not being left out?
- Meaningful consultation: Avoid applying any pressure on the community; provide detailed, accurate, complete, and accessible information about the project to all community members (scope, timeline, impacts, benefits, grievance mechanisms, remedies); ensure access to independent sources of information, technical support, and advice; allow for iterative discussions; revise proposals based on community feedback; and respect community decisions, including when communities say “no.”
- Implementation: Implement the agreement(s) (including any agreed remedies), and establish participatory processes for ongoing dialogue, monitoring and conflict resolution, and effective grievance mechanisms.
3. Create guidelines for community engagement
When engaging with local communities, it is important to adopt and implement a community engagement policy to commit to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC). Local communities play a significant key role in determining the project life cycle, whether informally or formally. Early engagement and frequent dialogue with Indigenous People are essential to understand community concerns, identifying and respecting legitimate tenure rights, and ascertaining the cultural significance of a project site from Indigenous Peoples and customary communities.
All types and levels of community engagement and associated documentation should be:
- Open to all members of the affected community, including women (and not only formal representatives)
- Transparent as to its intention and progress
- Accessible (format and terminology)
- Non-discriminatory in terms of race, gender, age, income, language, literacy, or disability
- Culturally appropriate, gender-sensitive, and context-sensitive
- In language(s) understood by the community and validated by the community
- Respectful of inter-community confidentiality when sharing information and documentation
- Protective of confidential community attendance lists to ensure members are not placed at risk
- Conducted in ways that provide sufficient time for meaningful community preparation and deliberation
- Openly accommodating of all opinions, decisions, and a community’s right to say “no”
- Free from retaliation in cases of disagreement or dissent
4. Establish and implement effective operational-level human rights grievance mechanisms
As part of a broader remedy ecosystem approach, operational-level grievance mechanisms provide a crucial avenue for project-affected individuals and communities, and their representatives, to voice concerns and complaints and serve as a vital feedback loop in Human Rights Due Diligence (HRDD).
A company grievance mechanism should align with the UNGPs effectiveness criteria and be1:
- Legitimate, validated, and trusted by those using it
- Accessible to all for whom it is intended irrespective of race, gender, age, income, language, literacy, disability, or access to technology
- Predictable in terms of its procedure, response times, monitoring, and appeals processes
- Equitable and ensure that aggrieved parties have access to information, expert advice, and support
- Transparent as to its function and progress
- Rights compatible with internationally recognized human rights
- Confidential to ensure the anonymity of complainants
- A source of continuous learning
- Designed and monitored in consultation with all for whom it is intended, adopting a bottom-up rather than top-down approach
- Culturally appropriate, gender-sensitive, and context-sensitive, and context-sensitive, and, where relevant, incorporate the traditional justice systems of the Indigenous Peoples concerned
Conclusion: Without indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge, and without Indigenous Peoples’ involvement in decision-making, we can’t provide and implement inclusive climate solutions
Indigenous Peoples’ traditional knowledge is the key to helping not only the world’s indigenous peoples, but all of humanity, adapt and mitigate climate change.
Indigenous Peoples have been adapting to changing climates and conditions for countless generations, and indigenous knowledge is typically founded on direct observation and interaction with the natural world over a long period of time. It is connected to land, water, air, and all life, language, spirituality, values, and sovereignty.
Common themes of what is identified from wind and solar project deployment form the basis of what is needed to further develop guidance and increase capacities in a wide range of issues across different levels of government, indigenous government, stakeholders, and the general public and empower them to play their role in building resilience.
To properly deploy wind and solar projects, operation-level grievance mechanisms need to:
- Conduct training to build capacities for design and manage engagements and consultations with indigenous and non-indigenous governments and communities; capacities are needed in government and the private sector.
- Develop a collaborative community of practice among professional associations, and between professional associations and Indigenous Peoples.
- Design funding programs based on organized consultations on vulnerabilities, risks, capabilities, and needs at the local level.
While there are some committees and working groups created through various programs that allow communication with local-level representatives, at the moment there is no organized and systematic mechanism for inputs from local and Indigenous governments on priority funding needs. Understanding and embracing indigenous knowledge for living in harmony with nature is critical not only for the work that is needed in building the resilience of indigenous communities but also for the shift that we need to protect people and prosperity for future generations.
1 United Nations, OHCHR Accountability and Remedy Project: Meeting the UNGPs’ effectiveness criteria (2021); UN Global Compact, Understanding and implementing human rights grievance management: A business guide (2019); SOMO, Good policy paper: Guiding practice from the policies of independent accountability mechanisms (2021).
*Photo: ©European Union, 2021
Jayden Yoon’s experience has largely been in the fields of climate change and human rights. He is working as an environmental and social safeguards Senior Manager and recently completed GCF’s basic online training on Grievance Redress Mechanisms. He was a former Korean Military Officer for 12 years and then moved into a Swiss Human Rights NGO as the Director of Strategic Planning for several years. He has an extensive background in conducting counter-trafficking and modern slavery operations in almost 20 countries.