Latest update March 26th, 2023 12:59 AM
Feb 09, 2023 Letters
In a recent article in Development Today and a ‘fact sheet’ published by the government, officials in our government and at the ART-TREES Secretariat made some claims about my comments in my last letter to the editor. Here are some of their assertions, and my responses:
First, Christina Magerkuth at the ART Secretariat said that “the NTC unanimously approved the resolution … endorsing the LCDS and the benefit sharing arrangement outlined in the document.”
Frankly, it doesn’t matter whether this claim is true or not. What ART-TREES and other proponents of the recent carbon credit approval and sale seem to refuse to understand is that the NTC has no authority to “endorse” plans like this on behalf of all of Guyana’s indigenous peoples. The most that can be said is that the handful of Toshaos who signed the resolution expressed their personal approval of the plan as a function of their role—stated clearly in the Amerindian Act—to provide advice tothe Minister of Amerindian Affairs on policies that affect our peoples. The gap between “provide advice” and “legally endorse” is wide.
In the government’s publication, they argued that the NTC’s statutory functions to “coordinate and integrate the activities of the villages on a national basis” and “to prepare strategies and plans for the protection, conservation and sustainable management of village lands and natural resources” somehow vest the NTC with authority to represent all of our indigenous communities in this matter. What is missing from these provisions about coordinating, integrating, and preparing in section 41 of the Amerindian Act is decision-making authority. Under section 34 of the Amerindian Act, only the Village, by the method of a Village general meeting, can take decisions for itself. And under international human rights law, that authority rests with the chosen representative institutions of indigenous peoples. In Guyana, that has never been the NTC.
I can think of a few reasons why non-indigenous people and organizations are resistant to this fact. On the government’s side, an NTC that is pliable and manipulable allows the government to portray an image that they respect the rights of indigenous peoples on the international stage. On ART’s side, their reputation depends upon the success of Guyana’s jurisdictional carbon credits. Guyana is the first country to have credits approved by ART, and if ART were to admit that their “high-integrity” credits were not so high-integrity after all, ART’s relevance in the burgeoning carbon credits scene would be in serious question.
ART is fully aware of this situation: the report created by Aster Global, the carbon credit verification body, states that “because endorsement of the National Toshaos Council for the LCDS 2030 is a key consideration used in substantiating the Participant’s rights to manage and administer [emission reductions] to be issued by ART that are derived from titled and untitled Amerindian land, any changes to this endorsement by the National Toshaos Council would require reassessment to determine how the changes could affect the Participant’s rights. …[T]he status of National Toshaos Council continued endorsement warrants ongoing consideration due to its importance.” In other words, ART’s assertions that Guyana’s jurisdictional carbon credits respect indigenous peoples’ rights rests on the NTC’s endorsement. Take that away, and ART knows that its first (and so far its only) set of TREES-approved credits will be on shaky ground.
Our concern is respect for our right as indigenous peoples to free, prior, and informed consent. This is not to say that no indigenous community in Guyana would ever decide to give its consent to carbon credit sales, only that we must have the opportunity and the information required to take this decision for ourselves, in our own way and in our own time, not by a stroke of a pen by the NTC in Georgetown.
PradeepaBholanath at the Ministry of Natural Resources also made a puzzling comment, after questioning my credibility, that “in democracies, there will always be varying commentary around ambitious climate action – and sometimes these will be for partisan political reasons rather than based on facts.”
The deceptiveness of this comment is frustrating. As stated above, our communities’ concerns over the carbon credit approval and sale are about respect for our rights, not opposition to climate action. The comment shows just how disconnected our government is from our indigenous communities. Ask any indigenous person how climate change has affected their life, and they will give you a list. Shifting weather patterns attributable to climate change affect everything, from the cassava we eat to the leaves we use to make our roofs.
Ms. Bholanath also noted that I had been part of the LCDS consultation process led by the government. Of course, I was; I care about my communities and have long worked to advocate for meaningful consultations and respect for the rights of Amerindians. But the fact remains that consultation is not consent, and a consultation process that does not lead to an opportunity for our communities to give or withhold consent through our own processes cannot constitute meaningful participation. I was also part of a meeting where Ms. Bholanath said that they would take seriously important lessons learnt from the previous LCDS. These recent actions show that those lessons have been ignored, and we see a dangerous trend in ignoring rights and proper process.
For the government, this carbon credit scheme is about money. For the ART Secretariat, it’s about reputation. The concerns I have expressed, which are shared by many members of our communities, are about safeguarding our culture, our identity, and our way of life. I call on the ART Secretariat to reevaluate the role played by the NTC in carbon credit approval for all future batches of credits, and I call on the Government of Guyana to stop using the NTC as a substitute for genuine free, prior, and informed consent.
Climate change is a real threat to humanity with indigenous people being the most vulnerable. While Guyana may be able to cash in on our mitigating measures, it should not be done at the expense of strong processes that respect and protect rights. Ignoring our rights will threaten the very existence of Guyana’s first peoples. We are still in the initial stages of the carbon credit scheme, and there have been fundamental missteps that can be corrected. We need mechanisms that reflect full and meaningful participation, true representation, and respect for our rights as indigenous peoples. We can use this opportunity to realise the ‘One Guyana’ policy and truly lead the global effort in fighting climate change, without sidestepping the legitimate concerns of our communities.
They are being paid while we are being played…your pain is their gain!
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