The Power of Language

Language. Never have I more understood the power of language than during the the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations. Indigenous groups have noted some very important wording that may be removed from the Paris Rulebook – a document meant to guide implementation of the carbon emission reductions put forth in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

IMG_5494 2
Images from the Pacific and Koronivia pavilion at COP24.

Language protecting the rights of indigenous people may be removed from the rulebook. This makes for a dangerous negotiation. The fear is that future marginalization of these groups may be rationalized under the guise of climate change mitigation or adaptation. For a demographic which has already seen so much discrimination, this is not an option and they are desperately trying to protect themselves. As Mr. Ghazali Ohorella, an International Indigenous Rights Advisor said in a press conference Dec. 10th at COP24, “We are here, we are fighting. Fight with us.”

Ghazali Ohorella (second from left) speaks about indigenous peoples’ rights during a press conference at COP24.

While the possible shift in language is important, it signals a larger issue at hand. Indigenous peoples were fighting for their way of life, resources, livelihoods, and stories long before climate change came into the picture. Now they’re fighting both discrimination and climate change. Their priorities, as compared to other demographics seeking to combat climate change, are preservation of culture and history, as well as pure survival. Ms. Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim spoke of the scorching 50˚C heat in Chad (her home country) and the inability to find water. Survival of person and of culture is particularly precarious for these groups.

Ms. Hindou Ibrahim speaking during the Talanoa Dialogue at COP24. The Talanoa Dialogue is a discussion that aims to support Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to climate change mitigation through storytelling.

In order to preserve their origins, it is critical that indigenous people have a seat at the negotiation table. These groups want to protect themselves, their homes, and their way of life. Many of them, particularly those groups in the Pacific Islands, have accepted the fact that they may lose their homes, but they absolutely refuse to give up their cultural history.

“We have been resilient throughout time. So we have a lot of experience and a lot of solutions in terms of dealing with climate change, dealing with anomalies, and all these things that climate change brings. Our expectation at COP is ensuring that we are at the table and ensuring that they are listening to us because we have a lot to offer.”

But it’s not an act of charity to help indigenous groups. It’s advantageous and right. According to Ohorello, 80% of the world’s biodiversity belongs to indigenous populations. So by protecting these people, we’d be protecting world interests. We’d be protecting ethnic diversity. We’d be protecting mother earth.

So what can you do? Make your voice heard! Show support for groups such as the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC). Well placed support can go a long way towards mitigating climate change and shielding the disenfranchised.





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑

Create your website at
Get started
%d bloggers like this: