COP 28 presented an important platform for voices often marginalised in climate discussions: Indigenous leaders. Although the irony of the event being hosted in the UAE was not lost on anyone. The stage was set courtesy of Cultural Survival which organised a panel for COP 28 Indigenous Peoples’ Pavilion on ‘leveraging the power of Indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination and FPIC in climate-related work: when false climate solutions violate Indigenous rights’.
Voices, often sidelined in mainstream discussions, came to the forefront to challenge the authenticity of carbon market strategies and green energy production projects. The promise of pollution offset without genuine emission reduction is a smokescreen for more concerning consequences, particularly for vulnerable Indigenous communities. The narratives presented at COP28 exposed how these markets, far from being a panacea, can perpetuate harmful practices, displace communities, and prioritise profit over environmental justice. Despite the public platform, most Indigenous peoples felt overlooked and disappointed at the end of the summit. In the final agreement, Joan Carling of IIPFCC highlighted the lack of emphasis on Indigenous rights, consent, and their participation as decision-makers.
Opening the discussion was Thomas Joseph, an Indigenous advocate who seamlessly blends his professional experiences in investment banking with a deep commitment to his ancestral lands in Northern California. Joseph set the tone for the rest of the panel, unveiling the stark realities of false climate solutions that often dominate the narrative. His poignant observations exposed the paradox of permitting ecosystem destruction in one place under the guise of restoration elsewhere, perpetuating the cycle of environmental harm. These ‘dangerous distractions’ divert valuable resources towards ineffective strategies, leaving little room for genuine solutions to flourish. The commodification of Indigenous knowledge, priced within a capitalistic framework, exacerbates the plight of Indigenous communities in Northern California.
UAE’s Impact in Kenya
The UAE’s ambitious $450 million investment in carbon offsets in Kenya has garnered attention, but not for the right reasons. Carbon land grabs, widespread in Africa and the Global South, involve a UAE company ‘Blue Carbon’, securing deals for 24.5 million hectares across the continent. These incidents expose carbon credits as a large-scale tactic enabling companies and governments to acquire land under the guise of environmental responsibility, effectively greenwashing their actions. Instead of signalling environmental progress, this massive investment has led to mass evictions in the 10 Water Towers region, violating Indigenous land rights on an alarming scale. The devastating consequences ripple through communities, jeopardising not only their homes and livelihoods but also their cultural identity. As a direct consequence of these evictions, Indigenous communities face an existential threat to the loss of land, homes, and cultural identity. This is not a mere collateral impact; it is a direct result of a flawed system that places profit above human rights. The very communities that have sustained diverse ecosystems for centuries now find themselves on the frontline of environmental injustice. The lack of free prior informed consent and the spatial imposition on Indigenous territories underscore the urgent need for awareness and transparency in international law and legal documents.
Championing Indigenous Narratives
Samwel, a Maasai activist and the founding director of Oltolio Le Maa, a Maasai-led participatory video group that documents human rights issues, social development, and Maasai culture, was meant to be a guest panellist, however, unfortunately could not make it.
Samwel’s work began using participatory video to defend Maasai territories from land grabs and forced evictions of Maasai pastoralists. He has also led the Living Cultures movement (a partnership between InsightShare and the Pitt Rivers Museum Oxford), which dismantles colonial narratives within museums by empowering Indigenous peoples to curate their own narratives.
After listening into the panel event, Samwel in a dialogue with Nick Lunch, the co-founder and director of InsightShare (a participatory development organisation working in support of Indigenous peoples’ struggles for self-determination) reflected his concerns regarding how these carbon market schemes have been “produced and dominated entirely by colonial narratives backed up by scientific research”, and to shift this narrative, he suggested the need for corporations and governments to implement a decolonising approach that centres the wellbeing of human life and all non-human life at the forefront of decision-making processes.
By unmasking false climate solutions, organisations like InsightShare create space for genuine dialogue, ensuring that future climate solutions are rooted in justice, equity, and the well-being of all communities. InsightShare’s focus on capturing and sharing the personal narratives of the Maasai community through the Maasai Living Cultures Program has provided a vital source of faith in decolonising the narrative by sharing their stories on their terms and becoming agents of change in the global climate narrative. Participatory video in this context, has allowed the community to decolonise the narrative by sharing their stories, exchanging knowledge and forming radical networks and alliances.
Centring Indigenous Knowledge: A paradigm shift
For centuries, Indigenous peoples have upheld intricate societies with circular economies, avoiding the kind of extractive practices found in some modern renewable energy processes. The executive director of Cultural Survival, Galina Angarova, at the panel underscored the importance of centring Indigenous knowledge in climate discussions. Indigenous solutions, rooted in a reciprocal relationship with the land, include traditional agriculture, ocean management, traditional fire management, and efficient home designs which hold the key to a sustainable future. The emphasis on Free Prior Informed Consent as both a substance and procedure of law ensures Indigenous communities have the right to make decisions throughout the process. It is only once we create space and allow Indigenous knowledge to be at the forefront, that more solutions will arise.
InsightShare envisions a future where Indigenous voices are not just heard but are incorporated into climate action policies. Its commitment extends beyond COP28, with plans to expand its network of community-led video hubs and advocate for policies that prioritise environmental justice. The goal is to create a global narrative where climate solutions are inclusive, equitable, and genuinely effective.
As we reflect on the powerful insights unveiled during the Indigenous panel at COP 28, a resounding call for genuine, inclusive strategies emerges. It is time to dismantle the facade of false climate solutions and actively engage Indigenous communities in shaping policies that prioritise the well-being of the planet and its people. Beyond mere rhetoric, let us lead a future that is not just sustainable but rooted in justice and respect for Indigenous wisdom and rights.
About the Author
I am a final year Global Development student at SOAS University, in London. I am currently part of the campaign support at InsightShare as part of my placement. I have a particular interest in environmentalism in East Africa and Migration and Diaspora Studies. My interest in environmentalism began with campaign work at Islamic Relief where I organised eco-iftars in my local community, blending spirituality with environmental awareness.
Find more about Zahra Wazifdar on LinkedIn.