by Rucha Chitnis
“We need to understand the realities on the ground in relation to renewable energy. It’s about human rights and true sustainable development,” said Joan Carling, Co-Chair of the Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development.
Carling was moderating a side session at the recently concluded Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, where she shared the vision of the the Right Energy Partnership with Indigenous Peoples.
Carling asserted that all conversations on amplifying renewable energy in indigenous territories must include local communities in the heart of the decision-making processes. “These projects must take into account the full recognition of our human rights and self-determination over our territories,” she said.
Adrian Lasimbang concurred. Lasimbang belongs to the Kadazan people in Sabah in Borneo. He shared that Indigenous Peoples were fighting big dams in Malaysia, and it was important for them to create appropriate renewable energy solutions that were owned and managed by local communities. “We developed our own design for renewable energy projects. It was important to build these technologies locally, and we developed a hybrid design with micro-hydro and solar,” he said.
Lasimbang also observed that their group devoted a lot of time for community organizing, which funders often don’t resource. “We need to integrate conservation with micro-hydro projects,” he said.
Janene Yazzie (Tsi’naajinii and Tódích’íi’nii) co-founded the Sixth World Solutions, a business that works with Diné (Navajo) communities to promote sustainability, environmental justice and self-governance. She shared that her community was still reeling with the devastating impact of uranium mining by the US government.
“We are still glossing over what was done to our communities, from pollution to contamination of soils.We still see the impact of mining in our community, where babies are born with uranium in their bodies,” she said.
Yazzie underscored that it was important to create regenerative economies and pursue renewable energy projects keeping in mind equity and needs of local communities.
Johnson M. Ole Kaunga (Maasai) said it was important for the global community to rethink renewable energy when the implementation had detrimental effects on local communities. As the director of the Indigenous Movement for Peace Advancement and Conflict Transformation, Kaunga shared how renewable projects in Kenya had led to the displacement of Indigenous Peoples.
“People were relocated and fenced off from their traditional lands. The surrounding environment was trashed and littered. It’s not inclusive development when local communities are not consulted,” he concluded.
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said it was critical for Indigenous Peoples to determine the kind of renewable energy projects were suited for their communities.
“In Oaxaca, windmills were installed without consulting with local communities. In the Philippines, electricity generated from big dams often does not benefit local communities,” she said.
Yazzie agreed with Tauli-Corpuz. “Corporations continue to devastate our communities. It’s important to pursue renewable energy projects in the right way and give back what has been taken from us,” said Yazzie.
“This session highlighted opportunities that exist to support bottom-up approaches that are designed and led by Indigenous Peoples. Funders need to not only focus on scale but also on rights-based approaches and understand the impact on communities,” said Lourdes Inga, Executive Director of International Funders for Indigenous Peoples.