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Monday, November 1, 2021

An indigenous story motivates COP26 opening in Glasgow

Outgoing COP President Carolina Schmidt from Chile started the proceedings before handing over to UK Minister Alok Sharma, who was formerly elected by acclamation to COP26 president, who summed up the job of the conference in his speech as to “ensure where Paris promised, Glasgow delivers”.

Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UNFCCC  told delegates: “We stand at a pivotal point in history”. She urged countries to come together to make progress in Glasgow, saying every day that delays the implementation of the Paris agreement “is a wasted day”.

"We must look beyond the numbers to the humans they represent. The data is unequivocal – we must limit the global temperature rise to 1.5C by the end of the century. We must use the science and act upon it."

"Consider the trust vested in you by billions – and achieve success, not just for our generation, but for all generations to come." said Espinosa in her speech.

But the most moving speech was the story of India Logan-Riley from Aotearoa on behalf of Indigenous peoples. She outlined the importance of indigenous knowledge and staying strong with the land and culture. Indigenous Leadership has already prevented substantial emissions by stopping or delaying  fossil fuel projects.

Watch the opening plenary below, keyed to start at India's speech

Transcript of India's speech to COP26 opening plenary

India introduced herself in language (Maori) which I am unable to transcribe.

In February of last year catastrophic climate fuelled wildfires tore there way across Eastern Australia. The smoke cloud was so big that the sun turned red in my own homelands far from the east coast of Australia.

At that time I was supporting my younger brother in hospital and the doctors told us they were seeing higher amounts of people with breathing issues related to the smoke in the air.

At that moment our health was bound to the struggle in the land and people in another country. With the impacts of climate change our fetes are inter-twined, as are the historic forces that brought us together today.

Before we embark on these two weeks of negotiations it is important to reflect on how we ended up in this room with thousands of other people masked up and poised to deliberate. And to do this I must go back hundreds of years to the roots of imperialist expansion and the story of my own community.

252 years ago invading forces sent by the ancestry of this Presidency arrived in my ancestors territories hearlading an age of violence and murder and destruction enbaled by documents like the Doctrine of Discovery that were formulated in Europe.

Land in my region was stolen by the British Crown in order to extract oil and suck the land of all its nutrients while seeking to displace my people and end our practices. The first time I personally experienced these violent processes was at 10 years old when the local council attempted to steal my community's land for the construction of a highway. Then after that, the New Zealand Government stole the foreshore and seabed and offered it up for deep sea oil drilling the following year.

These historic forces continued to shape my life and have brought me here. I have grown up in these negotiations spending my 20s running through these halls among decision makers while staying up well past midnight hand stitching banners.

Since my first climate talks in Paris I have been giving the same speech. I have been applauded and awarded for the conjuring emotive imagery of rising sea levels and wildfires that my community continues to endure. Six years ago I first spoke these stories into this space, and every year since I have repeated the same words: wildfires, sea level rise, wildfires, suffering, sea level rise, biodiversity loss, sea level rise.

Emissions continue to rise.

I am the same age as these negotiations. I have grown up, graduated, fallen in love, fallen out of love. Stopped and changed a couple of careers along the way. All while the colonial north governments and corporations fudge with the future.

Knowing this history shows us that hands and minds made the present world. So it is also hands and hearts and minds that can remake it. It is indigenous and frontline communities that are leading this remaking.

We are keeping fossil fuels in the ground and stopping fossil fuel expansion. We are halting infrastructure that would increase emissions and saying no to false solutions. In fact, in the US and Canada alone indigenous resistance has stopped or delayed greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to at least one quarter of annual emissions.

What we do works.

In the face of mediocre leadership indigenous people shine through.This is all to say that climate change is the final outcome of a colonial project. In our response we must be decolonial rooted in justice and care for communities like mine who have bourne the burden of the global north greed for far too long.

I cannot put it more simply than we know what we are doing and if you aren't willing to back us, or let us lead, then you are complicit in the death and destruction that is happening across the globe. 

Human rights framework must be entrenched in the Paris rule book, finance must be redistributed from the likes of war games in the Pacific to Loss and Damage and a Just Transition. 

Richer countries have to commit to steep emissions reductions this decade rather than palming off responsibility through carbon markets.

Last but not least: land back, oceans back. This is all part of following Indigenous leadership. This is what keeping warming below 1.5 degrees looks like. This is an invitation to you. This COP, learn our histories, listen to our stories, honour our knowledge and get in line, or get out of the way.


Meanwhile attendees at the conference who bought the Sunday Post, Scotland's oldest paper, would have seen this ad:

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