Climate activist Archana Soreng belongs to the Kharia tribe in Odisha, India. Indigenous communities like hers make up only 5 percent of the world’s population. But they protect more than 20 percent of our planet’s land and 80 percent of its biodiversity.
“Over the years, generations of us indigenous communities have been told that we are underdeveloped, we are savage, we are backward because of our own traditions, because of identities, because of our cultures,” says Archana whose name means “rock” in her native language.
“It is only now that over the years, we see that the rights of indigenous people, the perspective of indigenous people are being respected which is also incorporated in the IPCC reports,” she adds, referring to the science-backed report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that for the first time in 2019 recognized the vital role indigenous communities play in preserving ecosystems and forests.
“Indigenous people, young people should be the leaders of climate actions, not victims of climate policies,” stresses Archana. “I think it's important that we stop tokenizing the participation of young people and indigenous people and local communities and also make them part, because of their expertise, in the entire policymaking processes and in the implementation processes.”
The communal lands, natural resources and ecosystems sustainability managed by indigenous communities around the world - from the Arctic to Antarctica - support the lives and livelihoods of 2.5 billion people globally. But today, their food systems are severely affected by loss of wildlife and plants, drought and other erratic weather patterns.
“It's important to understand that the indigenous people who are contributing towards climate action to their traditional knowledge and practice to their way of living, who are least polluters, or who have least contributed towards the crisis, are being affected by climate crisis, which again, brings down to the question of justice - like the people who did not do it are being affected and people who are contributing are not supported,” she adds.
For generations, indigenous communities have also fought to protect their ancestral lands from destructive practices such as deforestation, land grabbing, oil and gas extraction, and monocropping.
“For my community, what I see is that because of extractive developmental projects, there has been immense land grabbing, there has been displacement, there has been loss of language and identity crisis of the communities. And in this entire discourse, when there is again, impacts of climate crisis happening, it has been led to a very, very vulnerable position. And I think that's why it's really, really important that we recognize the rights of indigenous people over the land, forest and territories and safeguard them so that they are able to contribute towards climate action.”
At the 2021 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, United Kingdom, governments pledged $12 billion to stop and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030. In an effort to preserve the rights of indigenous communities, $1.7 billion was earmarked to support their expertise and efforts to conserve forests.
“For us, young people, it's very important to embrace identity, to know our traditional knowledge and practices to preserve it, protect it, and advocate for the participation of indigenous people and local communities in the climate decision-making processes, because we are the ones who are most contributing to it (climate action), yet, we are the ones who are most affected by it (climate change),” says Archana who was selected by UN Secretary-General António Guterres in 2020 to become one of the seven young people with diverse backgrounds and expertise to join his Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change.
“We all can contribute towards climate action because we all are unique. Our voice matters,” she says.
“And you can contribute to climate action in the way you like, in the way you can.”
This Earth Day, contribute to climate action in the way that you can, because every voice matters, every action counts.