Lander resident representing Northern Arapaho Tribe at UN climate conference

Lander resident Big Wind Carpenter is in Egypt this month representing the Northern Arapaho Tribe as an observer at the 27th Convening of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

It’s their second time attending the conference with the SustainUs youth organization.

Paris Agreement

Carpenter’s last trip to COP was as a member of the first-ever SustainUs all-Indigenous youth delegation in 2019.

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The United States had just pulled out of the Paris Agreement climate change treaty that year, they recalled.

“It was a very hard to time be (at COP),” Carpenter said this week. “I went there as a youth delegate from the United States, and I found myself intervening on behalf of the Indigenous peoples’ organization to express my disappointment in the United States government, because … they weren’t taking the climate crisis seriously.”

The situation is different now, Carpenter said, since the U.S. has decided to rejoin the Paris Agreement and start focusing more on efforts to “lead on climate action.”

Loss and damages

Those leadership efforts should involve taking responsibility for the impacts of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, Carpenter said.

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“The United States is responsible for 25 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions – which is a huge number,” they said. “We are responsible to pay out loss and damage to countries (that) are at extreme risk of the climate crisis.”

Loss and damage is “on the table this year” at COP27, Carpenter said, since that section of the Paris Agreement “hasn’t been completely flushed out” yet and currently has “no teeth to hold the global north accountable for the damage that’s been done.”

“The global north is responsible for 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and we make up 20 percent of the human population,” they pointed out.

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Meanwhile, they said, “the global south represents 80 percent of the human population and are the least responsible for the climate crisis but are facing catastrophic events today and well into the future.”

For COP27 to be “successful,” Carpenter said the parties involved need to “codify a financing mechanism for loss and damage.”

“There are countries who are being affected by climate change right now, (and) there’s not that mechanism to get them funds immediately,” they said.

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Instead, Carpenter said, affected countries are forced to enter into “predatory loans” that leave them in “perpetual debt.”

Carbon market

The global carbon market will be another focus at COP27, Carpenter said.

The carbon market portion of the Paris Agreement “can be seen as a stride in the right direction,” they said, but “the problem” with carbon markets is that “oftentimes Indigenous people aren’t taken into account for these projects” that can result from emissions trading.

“Large swaths of land are being taken away from Indigenous people in Africa and Asia in the name of conservation, (with) no free prior and informed consent – which is a violation of UNDRIP, the declaration of the rights of Indigenous peoples under the United Nations,” Carpenter said.

The Indigenous peoples’ group at COP27 will work to “ensure that we are mentioned” in the carbon market portion of the Paris Agreement, and “that the wording ‘free prior and informed consent’ is embedded” in that language as well, Carpenter said.

They noted that Indigenous people make up about 5 percent of the global human population but “are protecting 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity.”

“That’s no coincidence,” Carpenter said. “It’s because of that relationship that we have with land – (that) reciprocal relationship. … We take care of the land, we take care of the water, because we know when we do those things it will take care of us.”

In Wyoming, they pointed out, “we on the reservation protected thousands of acres up in the Wind River Mountains” long before institutions like Yellowstone National Park were created along with “this North American model for conservation which has replicated all over the world.”

That North American conservation model “can have negative consequences if (Indigenous) people aren’t at the table” to combine “traditional ecological knowledge and Western climate science,” Carpenter said.

Local activism

Carpenter has been organizing as a climate activist since they were 13 years old, both locally and throughout the country.

This summer, they helped plan Wyoming’s first-ever statewide climate summit on the Wind River Indian Reservation, and they are the Indigenous conservation associate for the Wyoming Outdoor Council in Lander.

They also support the Lander Climate Action Network, which is working to offset municipal carbon emissions.

“It can happen at a very localized level,” Carpenter said.

Nationwide, Carpenter has participated in multiple climate-related protests, and they have been arrested 10 times over the last six years for being involved in “trying to stop fossil fuel projects from happening” throughout the country.

None of those arrests led to criminal convictions, they noted – “because we’re doing the right thing” – but those experiences did help prepare them somewhat for the situation they face this week in Egypt, where more than 100 people have already been arrested for participating in climate demonstrations as part of COP27.

“This (is) not the best place for freedom of speech – which is very counterproductive,” Carpenter said. “Demonstrations have been fundamental in the COP space since its inception. … To limit something like that would be a detriment to the process in general (and) puts peoples’ lives at risk.”

Taking risks is “nothing new for me,” Carpenter said, referencing their prior climate activism – but “that doesn’t mean that I’m not scared.”

“It’s not my intention to come out here and get arrested,” they said. “The threat is here, and we’re going to have to be strategic. But we’re also going to have to apply pressure to the world’s leaders. …

“I hope that the Egyptian government, that the COP27 president, has it in their heart to understand that we’re going to have to take risks for a more just society – and sometimes that means speaking our minds and participating in demonstrations.”

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