Albeit the desperate need to take action on climate change, there is minimal effort to reduce climate change induced natural disasters to preserve the lands of the Indigenous communities. Often, policy makers attempt to compensate the Indigenous people who have been displaced with money or aid in relocation after the Indigenous homeland has already become inhabitable. Although policy makers might argue that it is common for people to relocate during times of globalization, a loss of homeland cannot be fully compensated or replaced by other communities. De Shalit uses the “stepfather metaphor” to provide a better understanding of the rigor of the issue of forced displacement. The loss of a biological father is irreplaceable for an individual regardless of the amount of care and love the child receives from their stepfather (de Shalit 2011, 325). Similarly, the new location and community the Indigenous refugee is put into is not a real substitute for their homeland, regardless of the quality of the living situation. To clarify, although the government can compensate and rectify the physical space that has been lost, it cannot fully rectify the loss of sense of place of the original homelands.
The current legal system does not hold the high carbon emission producers accountable and disregards the Indigenous communities’ claims to a right to their homeland. Under the current legal framework such as the Intellectual Property laws or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the right to natural resources is separated from their cultural resources (Chen and Gilmore 2015). The current treaties and aid programs often recognize the importance of either the preservation of natural resources or the recognition of the culture, but not both. However, the preservation of unpolluted natural resources is indivisible from the Indigenous culture and sense of functioning identity.
Indigenous force mobilization is the ideal solution to forced displacement and loss of functioning identity. Increasing the level of cooperation between local individuals, especially Indigenous leaders, and international policy makers is crucial for Indigenous representation. Individuals in Indigenous communities must mobilize themselves to collaborate with international organizations that are capable of asserting influences on powerful countries with high carbon emission rates. The prevention of the loss of another Indigenous community’s homeland is only achievable with active and accurate policy changes. Individuals contain the most accurate knowledge of vulnerabilities and necessities because they directly experience injustices such as loss of habitation, forced changes in lifestyle and repeated injuries from natural disasters. Using this knowledge, Ackerly specifies the categories of actions individuals can take to guide transformation in power inequalities (Ackerly 2018, 111). One of the five ways she mentions is to “make visible the complexity of forces that create obstacles to rights enjoyment through connected action” (Ackerly 2018, 111). When Indigenous individuals cooperate to fight for their rights to live in their homeland through performing connected action, complex injustices derived from high income countries can be tackled.
An example of an Indigenous community joining forces across borders to tackle climate change injustice can be seen in the Inuits. Tsosie cites that “the Inuit have organized themselves collectively across international borders as the ICC” (Tsosie 2007, 1672) to publicize that the United States has not followed international environmental law obligations and performed activities within its territory that caused transnational harm (1672). An individual Inuit might not have the power to change the United States’ policies, but when multiple local communities joined forces, it became possible to take on large nations and substitute international policies. Therefore, Indigenous individuals should bear some responsibility to hold accountable the main contributors to high carbon emissions to fight for climate change justice and basic human rights to a home.
Furthermore, Caney places a large emphasis on the responsibility of international institutions, especially coordinating bodies. Large international institutions like “European Community and the World Trade Organization'' can use the benefits of joining the organization to “induce compliance by stipulating that those joining their organizations must honor certain environmental standards” (Caney 2014b, 139). International institutions, as the final level of coordination, should create policies for displaced Indigenous individuals because they can create policies without the national interest in consideration. In addition, Indigenous forced environmental displacement should become a more pressing matter of discourse at the international level as Indigenous communities compose a large part of history and culture in many countries.
However, it is important that local Indigenous communities not rely on international institutions entirely but keep them accountable. Too much dependence can lead to a surrender of power and loss of voice for the local communities. Hayward illustrates this point: “as international institutions create new rights -- for example, carbon emissions rights or intellectual property rights in genetic resources -- old rights, and particularly rights of territorial sovereignty, are being significantly modified” (Hayward 2009,283). When international organizations are hindered by the power structure of the high income countries, the local Indigenous leaders can mobilize forces to create a larger basis for advocacy. Self determination is not achievable on the local level if there is no representation on the international level. Therefore, local communities and international institutions should all take responsibility to cooperate and create change.
An example of a local community taking independent initiative against a national government without the help of an international organization can be seen in the case Community Mayagna (Sumo) Awas Tingni v Nicaragua (2001). Jaime Castillo Felipe, a leader of the Mayagna Awas (Sumo) Tingni Community lodged a petition against the Nicaraguan government that practiced commercial logging (ESCR-Net). Commercial logging can degrade the ecosystem functions of the natural forests, increasing the likelihood of severe fires, increasing greenhouse gas emissions and decreasing biodiversity (Sierra Forest Legacy). Supporting the advocacy of Jaime Castillo Felipe who recognized these dangers through years of direct local knowledge, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights ruled that the Nicaraguan government must adopt necessary measures to create an “effective mechanism for demarcation” (ESCR-Net). The action of one local leader was able to mitigate the detrimental effects national commercial logging has on global warming.
Therefore, Indigenous communities must utilize the decades of local knowledge they acquired about natural resources to promote the creation and modification of climate change policies on the national and international levels. Local knowledge is extremely valuable for policy makers to design “apposite adaptation and mitigation strategies to address the challenges of climate change” (Rahman and Alam 2016). If Indigenous individuals mobilize forces to hold the main drivers of climate change accountable, the prevention of further forced displacement of other Indigenous communities will be achievable.
“Case of the Mayagna (SUMO) AWAS Tingni Community v. Nicaragua [Eng].” ESCR, https://www.escr-net.org/caselaw/2006/case-mayagna-sumo-awas-tingni-community-v-nicaragua-eng.
“Logging Impacts.” Logging Impacts - Sierra Forest Legacy, https://www.sierraforestlegacy.org/FC_FireForestEcology/FFE_LoggingImpacts.php.
Ackerly, Brooke A. 2018. "Responsibility for Climate Justice: A Human Rights Approach to Global Responsibility for Environmental Change and Impact." In Human Rights and Justice: Philosophical, Economic, and Social Perspectives, ed. Melissa Labonte and Kurt Mills. New York, NY: Routledge, 102-122.
Caney, Simon. 2014b. "Climate Change, Intergenerational Equity and the Social Discount Rate." Politics, Philosophy & Economics 13, 4: 320-342.
Chen, Cher Weixia, and Michael Gilmore. “Biocultural Rights: A New Paradigm for Protecting Natural and Cultural Resources of Indigenous Communities.” International Indigenous Policy Journal, vol. 6, no. 3, 2015, https://doi.org/10.18584/iipj.2015.6.3.3.
de-Shalit, Avner. 2011. "Climate Change Refugees, Compensation and Rectification." The Monist 94, 3: 310-328.
Hayward, Tim. 2009. "International Political Theory and the Global Environment: Some Critical Questions for Liberal Cosmopolitans." Journal of Social Philosophy 40, 2: 276-295.
Rahman, Md. Habibur, and Khurshed Alam. “Forest Dependent Indigenous Communities’ Perception and Adaptation to Climate Change through Local
Tsosie, Rebecca. 2007. "Indigenous People and Environmental Justice- the Impact of Climate Change." University of Colorado Law Review 78: 1625-1677.