Indigenous peoples comprise less than 5 percent of the world’s population but protect 80 percent of its biodiversity. But COVID and immigration restrictions are making it nearly impossible for some communities to attend COP26, the United Nations’ annual climate change conference.
Xiye Bastida, 19, a prominent youth activist of the Otomi-Toltec indigenous people in Mexico, was looking forward to speaking at the conference, held this year in Glasgow starting Oct. 31. But she won’t be able to go as she had wished, as a member of the Mexican delegation, where she could have been involved in conversations with decision-makers. While many other countries opened up spots to members of the public, she said the UN focal point in Mexico, which organises the COP26 delegation, couldn’t help her.
Bastida only found access to the conference by approaching various NGOs, which can get a small number of badges for their roles as “observers.” She also showed VICE World News a video featuring the confirmed list of Mexican delegates, which included a representative from CEMEX, a cement company.
“Why did Mexico bring a cement person when I asked them as a youth activist to get a badge to COP and they said we can’t because you might not represent their interests?” Bastida said.
To attend COP, Indigenous activists often have to navigate the idiosyncrasies of their local governments. But this year, they’ve also met a variety of COVID-19 restrictions on top of strict immigration rules from the British government hosting the climate conference this year. Whether they’re missing a visa, a delegate badge, or simply thousands of pounds to handle costly quarantine costs, many activists won’t make it to COP26 as planned—or will simply head there without delegate badges, which allow them access to politicians, in hopes that they can still exert some influence.ADVERTISEMENT
Minga Indígena, a collective of Indigenous peoples from across different countries and communities who have mobilised to fight for Indigenous rights, believe that much more should have been done to get them to COP.
In a letter to British MP Alok Sharma this month, the collective wrote that expecting Indigenous participants who don’t normally deal with technology, might not be used to closed spaces, and don’t speak the local language, to go through 10 days of quarantine if they haven’t been vaccinated is “detrimental in economic, cultural and emotional terms.” And many of those populations likely haven’t been inoculated given the vaccine inequality, especially in Latin America.
Sharma has yet to reply to the letter, but he previously said, “I have always been very clear that this should be the most inclusive COP ever.”
In a recent press conference, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres also addressed the issue. When VICE World News raised the concerns of the indigenous activists that many would be unable to attend, he said, “There are several limitations in relation to this COP because of COVID. I would like to see communities strongly represented. I will check to see if there is still something we can do.”
In 2018, Mexico had the world’s 11th largest greenhouse gas emissions and, in recent years, has invested heavily in fossil fuels. Nashielli Valencia, a Zapotec indigenous activist who is currently working to fight the development of industrial plants in Oaxaca, hoped to attend COP to talk about that.