Indigenous Rights and COP26 with Reynaldo Morales, PhD
The Northwestern delegation that attended COP26, the annual UN climate change conference that took place in Glasgow, is back on campus. Of the many topics discussed at COP26, climate change and the roles and rights of Indigenous peoples was top of mind for our delegation.
Reynaldo Morales, PhD joins Annelise Riles on this episode of the Breaking Boundaries podcast to discuss this topic. He was a member of the Northwestern delegation and is an assistant professor at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. He is also a faculty fellow here at Northwestern Buffett.
Morales served as a participating member of the Local Communities and Indigenous People’s Platform at COP26, a working group designed to connect people from seven regions of the world to share climate solutions, best practices and Indigenous knowledge from some of the oldest living cultures on the planet.
Originally from Peru, Reynaldo’s research interests include Indigenous rights to genetic resources and knowledge systems.
- Journal article: Morales’ recent article in the journal Humanities, Building Global Indigenous Media Networks
- Audio: WORT Radio interview with Morales on his research and Indigenous justice
- Video: Morales talks about his path from journalist to academia on Indigenous Television
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Read the transcript of this show below
Annelise Riles [00:00:03] Welcome to the Breaking Boundaries podcast. I'm Annelise Riles, executive director of Northwestern University's Roberta Buffett Institute for Global Affairs. The Northwestern Buffett Institute is dedicated to breaking through traditional silos of expertise in geography, culture and language to surface novel solutions to pressing global challenges.
Reynaldo Morales [00:00:35] And so I was very happy to see the delegation that came from Northwestern University that offer this these students in political science or engineering that came. So with my own eyes, how these are students ' hearts and brains were moved by the heroic participation of indigenous peoples.
Annelise Riles [00:00:57] The Northwestern University delegation that attended COP 26 in Glasgow is back on campus. Of the many topics discussed at COP 26, climate change and the roles and rights of indigenous peoples was top of mind for our delegation. Here to discuss this topic is Professor Reynaldo Morales, an assistant professor at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism Media, Integrated Marketing Communications and a faculty fellow here at the Northwestern Buffett Institute for Global Affairs. Reynaldo was a participating member of the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform at COP26, a working group designed to connect people from seven regions of the world to share climate solutions, best practices and indigenous knowledge from some of the oldest living cultures on the planet. Originally from Peru, Reynaldo's research interests include indigenous rights to genetic resources and knowledge systems. Welcome, Reynaldo. I'm so thrilled to talk to you today.
Reynaldo Morales [00:01:58] Thank you very much for the invitation.
Annelise Riles [00:02:00] According to the U.N., there are an estimated 476 million indigenous people in the world living in over 90 countries. Having just returned from COP and knowing the communities and the issues as you do. What are some of the principal concerns of indigenous communities when it comes to climate change?
Reynaldo Morales [00:02:21] There is an emergence of a huge movement to restore indigenous peoples rights that has been put in motion since the first report in the 70s from indecipherable coal with the United Nations that created multidisciplinary engagement of indigenous peoples to challenge in this situation, in international legislations and at in international law. So in this process, it is key to understand that indigenous peoples have distinctive law frameworks directly related to colonialism and neo colonialism in our time and that are related to the impacts created by the formation for nation states and also to power differentials created by immense human and material losses that affected and continue affecting indigenous peoples chances to restore the lives in governance. So at the Climate Change Conference. There has been in place a long negotiation for the formal recognition that even though indigenous peoples bear the least responsibility for climate change, they are the most adversely affected because their livelihoods and worldviews are based upon, related to and dependent on ecological balance and ecosystem integrity. Specifically, on the negotiations on this new climate change conference, I participated actually in the discussions negotiations over the Article 6 of the parties agreement that were pending.
Annelise Riles [00:03:45] What is Article 6 for people who are not involved?
Reynaldo Morales [00:03:49] Article 6 of the Paris Agreement establishes the the limits and boundaries of the cooperation frameworks between different constituent groups and nation states and indigenous peoples is one of the key constituent groups in a distinctive one, as well as gender, religious groups and local communities and local institutions.
Annelise Riles [00:04:10] And what was the point of the negotiations around Article 6 of the Paris Agreement at Glasgow because it was agreed upon in Paris, right? So why were they discussing it again?
Reynaldo Morales [00:04:21] Well, this time there were some few countries that actually contested the the main references to human rights and the rights of indigenous peoples. So the first two countries that opposed that the sole mention of rights based approach in relation to human rights and rights of indigenous peoples at the beginning were Saudi Arabia and Iran. So the indigenous peoples delegation, and I was part of the technical committee actually created three observations that were related to the inclusion and consistency of the preamble of paragraph 11 of the Paris Agreement to maintain that text and operational text in Article 6.2 and 6.4. That also it should be maintained in the Article 6.8 and added into the principles of the annex of 6.8 on that same Article 6 of the Paris agreement that it was pending of the discussion this time.
Annelise Riles [00:05:23] I imagine that some of our listeners may say, Whoa, this is really technical and who cares, right? Like what words are in the preamble or in that article, I mean, why does it matter? I mean, what would you say to people say this sounds really abstract and far away from reality?
Reynaldo Morales [00:05:41] Indigenous peoples art is specifically distinctive stakeholder because they are under distinctive laws. We must understand that indigenous peoples have different laws that mainstream citizens of any country. These are huge attention and the application of those laws on recognition of these laws. Let's say, in the example of indigenous tribal communities in the US, they have a completely different constitutional law frameworks and legal frameworks than their regular citizens who live in any state in some. Many people don't know about that. Don't understand why. And this is related to specifically to our colonial history or the formation of nation states. And it matters because at the time when these legal provisions are discussed, indigenous peoples have to have a complete different treatment, different approach and different legal scopes in reaching agreements that that are distinctive from other sectors of society. We come from countries that have been developed through processes of colonization. There were millions of millions, hundreds of millions of survivors of these process and that they have not been formally included into the formation of this nation states and into the development of economic, social and cultural development that mainstream communities have been incorporated into and in. This is more acute when we talk about many rural communities that living in relative isolation in communities across the world that have been affected by many issues of economic development, not only colonization but neocolonialism are the corporate development. For example, users of mining, fishing and that depletion of their natural resources and many complex processes of political violence and tensions between these societies of survivors and mainstream communities that live under the new frameworks that nation state formation have been put in place.
Annelise Riles [00:07:54] How did you feel about the final results at COP 26?
Reynaldo Morales [00:07:58] It's a mixed reaction for us. Certainly, we had have had a relative success in the incorporation of applicable domestic and international standards in relation to the public participation of local communities and indigenous peoples. Still, we have the challenge of the acceptance of the compliance of the free priority for consent of indigenous peoples as a normal standard mechanism that nation states have to respect in their relationship with indigenous peoples. We still have pending, and this is something that has been supported to have a grievance mechanism. In the article 6.4 about the proposal that individuals international indigenous litigation was about an independent body of grievance because the supervisory body that was suggested by the presidency and the countries could not review all grievances or complaints from indigenous peoples in the violation of multiple rights. So we needed an independent body that can avoid any conflict of interest. Many things are happening right now. One of the key issues also there have not been satisfied completely is the role of local communities and indigenous people platform in how they, the local communities have been separated from. The discussion is specific to indigenous peoples in this in this conference because they have a complete different legal frameworks. The inclusion of local communities actually was an imposition of previous COPs and these are huge issues because they don't have territories, they are represented by multiple institutions. Many of them are non-Indigenous religious associations, gender based, or they represent exclusively peasant communities, farmers and they are represented or intermediated by NGOs and other civil institutions. But some of them are indigenous based, like in the case of campesinos in many different parts of the of the Americas, for example, and there are multiple responses in constitutional reforms across the world that tried, especially, for example, in Mexico, to try to make equivalent that these local communities that have campesinos on ancestry and background could be considered indigenous and therefore subject to the protections of international law. So we have the insistence of the local communities and indigenous peoples platform that we will devote this specifically to indigenous peoples in the climate change negotiations. And we will not focus specifically on local communities either. Even that that there are some of them are indigenous in their essence. So I specifically work on a technical committee that review and negotiate the modification to Article 6 with the parties and I was honored to work with very sharp policy analysts and negotiators to engage of multiple levels of interaction with country delegations, with the mission of educating and sensitize them in the implications of not addressing properly indigenous peoples rights. The other issues that it has been very interesting is that there are representatives that actually pushed for the complementary relationship of other counterparts, treaties and platforms like, for example, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the high level Political Forum on Sustainable Development the expert mechanism of the rights of indigenous peoples based on human rights, etc. it that many of these recommendations or the movement around international law transpired and was considered here as a legal background for the proposals that Indigenous peoples had at the Climate Change Conference. So I specifically work on a technical committee that review and negotiate the modifications to Article 6 with the parties and I was honored to work with very sharp policy analysts and negotiators to engage of multiple levels of interaction with country delegations, with the mission of educating and sensitize them in the implications of not addressing properly Indigenous people's rights.
Annelise Riles [00:12:07] So it's interesting you know what you say about the ways in which indigenous voices get watered down or lost in other groups, like local communities or religious organizations, and the ways in which COP was, in your view, a mixed bag? And I think a lot of people had that reaction that there were some good things. And then there were also some real limitations around things like how much compensation we're going to pay to communities that have already suffered damage from climate change and whether or not we're really going to ban or stop subsidies to coal and gas and so on. So as we start to think about the next COP, COP 27 in only a year's time and the work ahead of us over the next 10 years, our window for addressing many of these issues... you're such an interesting figure, Reynaldo, because you worked outside the university, inside the university, in the media, in international institutions, with indigenous communities, with that broad perspective that you bring. What do you think is the specific role for universities at this moment in this fight?
Reynaldo Morales [00:13:22] The role of universities is key. We have definitely the strategic role that universities play in terms of supporting not only the negotiations in a different way, but as we have is the division of different competencies in qualified and skillful participation of of multiple contributors. In the role of research universities, in particular research universities, there is and the possibilities, the opportunities of a greater role of facilitating discussions in and issues that are that pertain to the COPs and that have been discussed mostly in these arenas and in a rush. Because when we come here in the COPs, the only thing that you receive are documents in a bunch of documents and everybody has to read in their own times. And when we though when we go there, everybody's supposed to have read all of these. The vast amount of text in actually are in form of the negotiations and outcomes of different other previous conferences. And it's a very unrealistic process. Many research universities have actually the major opportunity the greatest advantage, especially our institution, the Buffett Institute of Global Affairs, to promote a new level of dialog prior or as part of the process in which nation states, key stakeholders, right holders and contributors, researchers, for example, gather prior to these to these COPs and these gatherings in order to discuss alternatives in have common ground without the rush of creating an outcome that in many cases, is based on the urgency of the moment and the need to establish an economy of resources. Right. And it is always insufficient. Not many institutions can play that that key role is all subject to funding. There's also selective funding actually. And many confusion regarding the roles in which technical commissions, activists, institutions like civil institutions, NGOs, corporations play in this debate. And we need to clarify the ground and I think that in terms of or in the case of research Universities, we can actually contribute to the gathering of technical groups, technical committees and technical commissions on reviewing specific language or a pre-agreement, certain portions of the research community that that have been developing field research and policy research and serve nation state representatives and their limited understanding of indigenous issues, to update their knowledge and their discussions about impacts, opportunities, challenges and possibilities of ownership that sees among us, it's a lot of work that can be done in preparation of these COPS and research Universities and institutions like ours can play a huge and important role. So I have a huge hope that the delegation that the came from Northwestern University and the Buffett Institute see now with different eyes this potential. And I was very happy to see students from political science or engineering that came actually facilitating the dialog between them and members of the International People's Delegations and Nations to interview, to meet the delegates to actually see the tension, which in then the rushing, which we were also working. To see the dynamics under which and different commitments that we were all subject to. I think they have a new understanding. I saw with my own eyes how these student's hearts and brains were moved by the heroic participation of indigenous peoples in defending the rights, in presenting an articulated response and articulated proposals. These members of these indigenous communities that are working in international policy are making history. It's not. It was not up to actually nation states to change those relationships. They opposed for many decades, they have been opposing the things that today will consider at this COP, that were key for the new partnership that are needed for effective changes. So we have reached a new level because of that, the heroic and is skillful and educated integration and technical participation of indigenous people. And I'm so glad the scholars of the Buffett Institute were there to see it and to understand now.
Annelise Riles [00:18:14] You really give us all hope. The agenda that you lay out for universities is daunting, but so exciting. So I really look forward to your your leadership in pushing this forward at Buffett. Thank you so much for Reynaldo for all that you do and for the insights you've provided for us today.
Reynaldo Morales [00:18:31] Thank you so much.
Annelise Riles [00:18:35] For more information on this episode and on the Northwestern Buffett Institute for Global Affairs, visit us at buffett.northwestern.edu.