Article 6 and Carbon Credit Denial: We’re More Trumpy Than We Admit.

I’ve been watching the events at COP25 in Madrid, as always, am very proud of those representing our Indigenous interests. In particular I am noting Article 6 of the Paris Agreement featuring strongly in the media and wanted to send a shout out to all who are raising their voices on this issue because it’s one that makes me sick with worry.

Seeing it pop up so much has also left me wondering whether many of our whānau here in Aotearoa understand what Article 6 is about, and how this article connects to our whenua, wai and rangi here in Aotearoa.

Bear with me while I connect this up with a little story:

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Back in 2017, a few of the cuzzies and I were in the thick of defending our coastline from oil prospectors Statoil (now Equinor) and Chevron. Over the previous year, with the support of our waka Te Matau a Maui, and Greenpeace NZ, we had gathered the support of 83 of our Iwi and hapu (tribal communities) along the eastern seaboard, and along with over 25 thousand signatures of New Zealanders, we took our petition to the United Nations Ocean Summit to present to the Norwegian government as the majority shareholders of Statoil. Our message was clear – we do not want them drilling for oil in our waters, we do not want them drilling for oil at all.

We managed to deliver our message loud and clear, and again we were aided over there, this time with the support of our Indigenous brothers and sisters. Outside the UN, we had our Mohawk and Standing Rock whānau, who had driven so far, to read out to the media the support letter of Chief Arvol Lookinghorse for our campaign.

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Inside, our Indigenous Moana brothers and sisters Maureen Penjueli (Pacific Islands Association of Non-Government Organisation) and Julian Aguon (Blue Ocean Law) graciously allowed us space to present our petition to Norway as a part of their UN event, which we did so with the support of our Chumash brother and sister (Mati Waya and Luhui) from the Wishtoyo Foundation.  It was an emotional journey, and while Statoil kept its distance, it was only in June of this year, when we heard the official notice that they had surrendered their prospecting permit, that I felt like we could exhale.

Something else happened on that journey as well, another act of solidarity that I want to discuss a bit more.

On the way home, I stopped in to participate in the Oil Refinery Walk – a walk that is organised by the San Francisco Bay Idle No More movement, run by First Nations peoples on Ohlone lands, to raise awareness to the 5 refineries that are splayed across their land. The largest one, the Richmond refinery, is also the largest of the Chevron refineries, and has exploded three times, sending tens of thousands of people to hospital with burns and toxic fume poisoning. It is a continual source of pollution and pain to the local community.

We marched together, past the dead waterways and the bay that had been routinely polluted by these refineries. I listened to elders talk about the ancestral footprint of that land, long gone from physical sight, but still vivid in their spoken histories. We shared our story with them, about Chevron coming to our shores, about us taking to our waka to read them their trespass notice, about our journey to the UN, and the solidarity of our peoples. Even after we left, the SF Idle No More movement took our Tino Rangatiratanga Flag, and printed out our images, and a huge placard of the map of our coastline, and they marched upon the Chevron Refinery to tell them “We know what you are doing in Aotearoa!”.

I was so thankful because truth be told, it’s lonely going to places like the UN. You wish you could take all of your communities with you but it’s so often just you, with their voices, and that is why Indigenous solidarity matters so much in these spaces. They were there for us in our time of need.

It’s these acts of solidarity with our people, our communities and coastline that I think about when we talk about carbon credits. These are the communities who experience the SOURCE POINT destruction of the oil companies that purchase carbon credits. While our forests may absorb some of the carbon from the atmosphere, they do not halt the environmental devastation on the lands of the Ohlone, and for our brothers and sisters to take their time out to fight for us and our coastline, a world away – well I think that deserves some more discussion and thought from us about the carbon credits some of us are providing to the companies who ruin their territories.

Carbon credits have not reduced the amount of emissions from the likes of Chevron. In fact, since the establishment of the carbon market, global emissions have increased. Certainly Chevron continues to extract, and pollute around the world, and abuse human rights while they are at it. The 2012 Richmond fire sent a thick plume of black toxic smoke over the communities and Bay. Our carbon credits did not alleviate that. Nor do they alleviate the disproportionately high rates of cancer and heart disease in the Richmond community, nor the displacement of Indigenous peoples from the Amazon in order to access oil reserves or establish carbon forests.

When I sit in our landblock meetings and I hear us discuss carbon credits as a source of income for our whanau, hapū and Iwi, I can’t help but think about our First Nations whānau and the stand they made for us so that we would not have the oil industry on our coastline, and the carbon credits we sell to the oil industry so that it can stay on theirs. I can’t help but think about the call they have put out to the world to please stop engaging in the carbon market that is ruining their lands and waters at the point source.

The commodification of our sky is being called out again, right now at COP25 in Madrid Spain.

Not surprisingly it’s Indigenous peoples leading that charge. We are, after all, the ones most immediately and worst impacted by carbon markets. These schemes that are responsible for, amongst other things:

  • Removing Indigenous peoples from their forest homes
  • Removing access for Indigenous peoples to their forest food systems
  • Replacing biodiverse native forest with exotic plantation forests
  • Devastating waterways and waterbodies with fungicides, herbicides, pesticides, and organic leachate
  • Enabling largescale polluters to devastate local ecologies

This list could go on and on, because really – the carbon market is what has allowed oil, gas and coal companies to continue extraction, and these companies in turn are guilty of mass crimes against humanity and the planet. It has allowed the general public to believe that we have a solution to the climate crisis that just hasn’t really kicked in yet.

Here’s the problem though – there’s every likelihood that it will never kick in.

After 30 years of concerted climate action – as a planet we are tracking worse than ever. We have known for 30 years that we need to reduce our emission rates but we have only increased them, and we do NOT have the time up our sleeve to tinker with models that have demonstrated over 3 consecutive decades that they do not work. At what point do we call time on these false solutions? The human race and a good deal of life on this planet is facing an existential crisis and we are behaving as though we can just wiggle the sparkplug and we will be good to go again. Our belief in faulty solutions means simply are not acting urgently enough, or radically enough, to provide our mokopuna with a future.

In a very real sense – it may wind up being the false solutions which pave the way to our complete failure to address the climate crisis.

THIS is why you are seeing Article 6 being brought up again and again in the COP25 talks. It is the foundation of the emissions trading system that has not only failed to halt emissions but has arguably enabled them to increase. The fact that Indigenous peoples are again leading this discussion belies another upsetting fact: Indigenous rights did NOT make it into the body of the Paris Agreement, in spite of the fact that we have demonstrated over successive years that we DO sequester more emissions than anyone else, and we protect more biodiversity than any other group. The return of Indigenous lands and protection of Indigenous rights is a demonstrable climate action that holds significantly more evidence of success than emissions trading, yet it did not feature in the Paris Climate Agreement.

Without a doubt, this is because the United Nations is a collection of colonial states that are 1. controlled by corporate elites and 2. voted in by their colonial populace.
They cannot fathom returning stolen lands back to Indigenous peoples, they cannot conceive of shutting down oil extraction and re-scripting the global and domestic economy in a way that prioritises the needs of Papatuanuku. For this reason we NEED to discuss the inherent racism, colonialism and elitism, that sits at the root of carbon reduction efforts, and center Indigenous voices.

For colonial governments and those who keep them in power, shutting down industries, rescripting economies and returning Indigenous lands are too radical in their approach, and so instead they will continue to tinker with a broken model until we all go over the cliff.

Seems to me that Trump isn’t the only climate-denier we have to deal with.

Which brings me back to our land-blocks…. and I know this is not a popular, or easy discussion for us to have. Particularly in my own region – where our hilly back country means that income for our whānau comes in the form of farming or forestry (both of which hold impacts for our waterways) – or carbon farming. It’s tempting for us to turn a blind eye to the fact that emissions trading enables climate change but when we do that – when we turn our back on our Indigenous brothers and sisters who have defended our rights, when we turn our back on the science that is shouting at us that carbon trading does not work, when we fail to have the conversation about what a failed emissions reduction effort mean for our mokopuna – when we put off the HARD work of radical change for the sake of some money in our pocket – are we really any better than Trump and other climate deniers?

The very, very least we can do is have the full conversation about WHO we are sacrificing, without their consent, in order to make a buck in the carbon market. At least, then we are facing up to our own decisions.

Image credit: David Tong

I have seen Indigenous practice in its fullest, richest sense, modelling for the world where we need to go, how we need to live, in order to have a future. I’ve seen the outcomes it provides. Our biodiversity and carbon sequestration wins are not occurring as a result of us chasing a carbon market, they are occurring where we are being pono to our ancestral responsibilities. I don’t just believe, I KNOW our Indigenous ancestors left, within us, all that is required as a value system to bring our planet back from the brink of no-return and secure a future for our mokopuna. I’ve marched the refinery corridor with First Nations brothers and sisters who still carry radical hope for a clean, healthy future for their communities. They have walked that hope for us all until their feet are sore and blistered.

Perhaps it’s time that we started walking our full potential too.
Here are some powerful Indigenous voices on carbon markets and article 6:

and *HERE is a great critical resource on carbon markets.

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