Indigenous World 2020: UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international treaty adopted at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 to tackle the growing problem of global warming and the related harmful effects of a changing climate. The UNFCCC entered into force on 21 March 1994, and has near universal membership, with 197 ratifying Parties (196 States and one regional economic integration organisation). In 2015, the UNFCCC adopted the Paris Agreement, a universal agreement to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. By January 2020, 187 of the 197 Parties to the UNFCCC had ratified the Paris Agreement.[1]

The UNFCCC recognises that achieving sustainable development requires active participation of all sectors of society. Therefore, nine ‘major groups’ are recognised as the main channels through which broad participation is facilitated in UN activities related to sustainable development. Indigenous Peoples constitute one of these major groups and thereby exercise an influential role in global climate negotiations. The Indigenous Peoples’ constituency is organised in the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC) which serves as a mechanism for developing common positions and statements of Indigenous Peoples, and for undertaking effective lobbying and advocacy work at UNFCCC meetings and sessions.

The Green Climate Fund (GCF) is a fund established by the UNFCCC as an operating entity of the financial mechanism to assist developing countries in adaptation and mitigation practices to counter climate change. The GCF has funded a total of 124 projects since its operationalisation in 2015 with project investments amounting to USD$5.6 billion. The GCF estimates that these projects will benefit 348 million people and prevent the emission of 1.6 billion tons of CO2 equivalent.[2] No disaggregated data exist on how many projects affect Indigenous Peoples’ land and territories, or how Indigenous Peoples are impacted positively and/or potentially negatively by the projects.

This chapter analyses developments and decisions involving Indigenous Peoples in 2019 – first at the UNFCCC first and second at the GCF.

Heralded as the #TimeforAction by the Chilean Presidency, 2019 was a mixture of significant procedural progress for Indigenous Peoples within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and utter frustration with the lack of meaningful progress in the face of a rapidly changing climate.

For several decades, Indigenous Peoples and their knowledge keepers have been raising their voice to tell us that Mother Earth is in crisis. In 2019, science, and thus the awareness of the global community, seemingly caught up, with the release of several international reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), such as the Special Report on Global Warming under 1.5°C and the Special Report on Climate Change and Land, and by the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).[3] Alarmingly, some studies indicate there is only a 5% chance that humanity will achieve the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 2°C by the end of the 21st century.[4] Already, sea level rise, extreme weather events, forest fires and coastal erosion are disproportionately affecting Indigenous Peoples. Further inaction threatens the social, cultural, environmental, spiritual and economic security of Indigenous Peoples and everyone across the globe.

Despite this, Indigenous Peoples are not standing idle. In fact, they have been leaders on adaptation and living sustainably with Mother Earth for thousands of years, rejecting the stereotypes of passive recipients of climate impacts, or as ‘canaries’ in the proverbial coal mine. This leadership is beginning to be recognised within the corridors of the UNFCCC as the year marked the first meetings of the Facilitative Working Group (FWG) of the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform – the first UN-constituted body with equal representation between Indigenous Peoples and States – and the adoption of the first co-developed official UNFCCC Work Plan for the Platform. This, however, is only the first step: Indigenous Peoples have two years to show Parties why their voices, solutions and knowledge are integral to solving the climate crisis.

COP 25: #TimeforAction or #TimeforInaction?

For the majority of 2019, the international climate change community was planning to attend the twenty-fifth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 25) in Santiago, Chile. All this changed on 1 November – little over one month prior to the supposed beginning of COP 25 – when the Chilean presidency announced its cancellation as massive protests swept the downtown core of Santiago. The protests were against domestic inequality and not related to climate change. Two days later, however, the Spanish government, in partnership with the Chilean presidency, announced that they had relocated COP 25 to Madrid on the exact same dates (2-14 December). With less than a month turn-around, the relocation caused significant problems for the participation of Indigenous Peoples – adding new financial and logistical barriers.[5]

If the previous COP in Katowice, Poland, was to be remembered for the adoption of weak Paris Agreement implementation guidelines (the Paris Rulebook), then criticism for this COP in Madrid must be equal, or more severe, actively preventing any reference to human rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples. In the media, COP 25 was lamented as a complete failure, delivering either a mediocre or non-outcome (delayed until COP 26) on all relevant agenda items: the development of rules for carbon markets (Article 6), loss and damage, and increasing ambition to curb emissions. Even UN Secretary General Antonio Gutierrez released a public statement expressing his disappointment with the results of COP 25, after an overhyped Climate Action Summit held in September 2019 in New York equally failed to deliver meaningful progress on the climate crisis.

Article 6 – the last remaining open item of the Paris Rulebook – received a significant amount of attention from Indigenous Peoples’ representatives. Several proposed references to human rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples were rejected, despite pressure by Indigenous Peoples and support by several Parties. A reference to “recalling the Paris Agreement, in particular its preamble” was all that remained before the Presidency determined that the negotiations were unsuccessful and should resume at COP 26 in Glasgow in November 2020. It is worth noting that the preamble does include a reference to both human rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Other areas that will be considered in Glasgow are the governance arrangements for the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage and the updating of Parties’ nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

Out of frustration, a precedent-setting demonstration of Indigenous Peoples, civil society, youth and other allies occurred outside the main plenary during the second week. The peaceful protest was met with swarms of media and UN security, quickly escalating as security forcibly pushed the crowd, including many Indigenous youth, through the warehouse door and into a closed courtyard. Such actions are only likely to continue as people demand real action, real solutions and real justice for the planet.

The Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform

Amid all the controversy and inaction circulating inside and outside the negotiating rooms, the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform, yet again, proved to be an exception to the rule. After two relatively painless negotiation sessions, the Parties confirmed the acceptance of the draft Work Plan of the Platform – marking the next two years of activities.[6] The Work Plan was the first fully co-developed product between Indigenous Peoples and State representatives of the FWG, demonstrating the massive leap forward that the COP 24 decision establishing the FWG made for Indigenous participation in the UNFCCC.

Arriving at this point did not occur overnight, requiring a great deal of diplomacy by both Indigenous Peoples and friendly States. At COP 24, the decision on the Platform[7] was officially gavelled on 12 December 2018, which perhaps serendipitously, was also Indigenous Peoples Day — the day set aside at a COP to highlight Indigenous Peoples’ involvement in climate action. The exact build up, and some of the challenges, to this decision can be found in previous editions of The Indigenous World. In the context of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the decision creates the first-ever constituted body (the FWG) that has equal representation between party and non-party representatives (Indigenous Peoples).

In advance of the first meeting of the FWG, all seven representatives from the Indigenous socio-cultural regions and the Party-groups, respectively, were nominated, except for the Eastern Europe group – which by the end of 2019 remained vacant. The nominated representatives met on 14-16 June, at the inter-sessional in Bonn (SB 50), where they were tasked with, under the COP 24 decision, the development of an initial two-year work plan for 2020–2021 for implementing the functions of the Platform, to be considered for adoption at COP 25.[8] In addition to this, the FWG was asked to elect its two Co-Chairs (one Indigenous and one State) and two Vice-Co-Chairs (one Indigenous and one State).

Attempting to reflect Indigenous worldviews, the meeting was organised in a series of concentric circles with FWG members and invited guests in the first circle, surrounded by Indigenous Peoples and other observers in subsequent circles. It was opened by Chief Howard Thompson offering a shortened version of the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address and followed by opening comments from the UNFCCC Executive Secretary, SBSTA Chair, Polish Presidency and Indigenous Peoples’ Focal Point. Soon after this, FWG members announced their consensus elections of the Co-Chairs and Vice-Co-Chairs. This was followed by the process to develop the initial two-year work plan which included the contribution of FWG members, Indigenous Peoples’ representatives and other observers, remaining consistent to the open and inclusive process that begun in 2016. The final version, as agreed to by consensus by FWG members, included 12 activities organised in the three functions: capacity for engagement, exchanging knowledge, and climate action and policies.[9] Example activities included organising an annual thematic training workshop, the mapping of policies and practices that include Indigenous participation, and the reporting of existing funding opportunities for Indigenous Peoples. All activities are intended to have multi-level impacts at the local/tribal/community, national, regional and international levels.

In addition to the development of the Work Plan, several mandated events occurred at the session, including an in-session thematic workshop intended to address the sticky issue of local communities’ participation in the Platform; however, there was a clear lack of any meaningful participation of local communities, resulting in the reiteration of different views on what the term ‘local communities’ means, the specific considerations of Indigenous Peoples’ participation and the lack of a formal constituency established for local communities.

The second FWG meeting took place in Madrid on 28-30 November, following a similar circular format and starting with a ceremonial opening by Indigenous representatives from Chile. Though there was relative comfort in the draft Work Plan for consideration by Parties, the most contentious discussion concerned funding for the Work Plan’s activities. After much pressure from FWG members, the UNFCCC Secretariat begrudgingly shared background on the current funding (or lack thereof), which included ‘core funding’ for two meetings a year, but nothing confirmed for implementation of the aforementioned Work Plan activities. It was confirmed that FWG members, with support from the UNFCCC, would need to fundraise for supplementary funding for the activities, the first of which will take place at the intersessional in June 2020 (SB 52).

The road to COP 26

While the adoption of the Work Plan of the Platform was an important outcome in advancing Indigenous participation in the UNFCCC, much remains to be done.[10] Notwithstanding the potential progress that the Platform could contribute to advancing Indigenous self-determination, Indigenous legal orders and Indigenous-led solutions in addressing the climate crisis, Indigenous Peoples’ representatives are increasingly frustrated with a lack of ambition by Parties and their ongoing failure to adopt a rights-based approach to the Rulebook – not to speak of the broader climate crisis. COP 26 in Glasgow will be an opportunity for Parties to listen to the voices of Indigenous elders, knowledge keepers, experts, youth and leadership, as well as the overwhelming (and growing) amount of scientific, economic and political evidence to make commitments to increase their nationally determined contributions (NDCs), and respond to the crisis. The world will be watching.

The Green Climate Fund

2019 was also an important year for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) – as well as for Indigenous Peoples. The GCF undertook its first formal replenishment process during which 28 contributors made pledges totalling USD$9.78 billion.[11] Among the key achievements for Indigenous Peoples, an Indigenous Peoples Specialist / Focal Person was appointed in the GCF Secretariat in line with the GCF Indigenous Peoples’ Policy (hereafter IP Policy) adopted in 2018.[12] Furthermore, the GCF developed and approved the Operational Guidelines of the IP Policy at its board meeting in July 2019 (B.23).[13] They provide guidance on the application of the IP Policy that forms part of the environmental and social management system of the GCF. The guidelines explain the requirements of the IP Policy and the related environmental and social safeguards.

In 2019, the GCF undertook its strategic planning for 2020-2023 which includes a strategic plan for the period and a work plan for the Board. The work plan was adopted at the board meeting in November (B.24) and includes the scheduling of a review of the IP Policy in 2023.[14] The Strategic Plan 2020-2023 will be presented for consideration and adoption by the Board at its 25th meeting in March 2020. The draft Strategic Plan states that it “...will enhance its engagement with Indigenous Peoples, including through an Indigenous Peoples Advisory Group (IPAG)” established through the IP policy.[15] However, civil society organisations and Indigenous Peoples’ representatives are concerned of the lack of clear human rights-based framing in the draft Strategic Plan and of its enhanced focus on the private sector.

In 2019, a decision on ‘matters related to GCF support to adaptation’ was also adopted.[16] Indigenous Peoples’ representatives welcomed the aspects of community-based adaptation and enhanced direct access in the decision. At the same time, they were concerned of the lack of clear reference to the GCF’s overall adaptation focus on the ‘most vulnerable communities’ and Indigenous Peoples. Of further concern, with this decision, the GCF failed to clearly describe its expectations and requirements towards the private sector regarding addressing adaptation needs, safeguarding social and environmental risk, and respect of the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

At B.24, the GCF adopted an Updated Gender Policy and Action Plan 2020-2023, despite strong dissatisfaction from civil society and Indigenous Peoples due to weak language regarding human rights in the Policy.

Throughout 2019, Indigenous Peoples’ representatives called for the GCF to ensure that accredited entities and States comply with the IP Policy in accordance with relevant international standards, norms and practices. Among the requirements of the Policy, an Indigenous Peoples Plan (IPP) is to be prepared for any activity planned on Indigenous Peoples’ lands or related to Indigenous Peoples, not only because of potential negative impacts to Indigenous Peoples, but also to harness need-based benefits to Indigenous Peoples. Identification of collective attachment (of Indigenous Peoples to their lands) is to be extended to cultural and spiritual attachment with intangible spaces. Similarly, ‘free, prior and informed consent’ (FPIC) is to be ensured, not only in cases of adverse impact (as a risk mitigation tool), but in any activity planned on Indigenous Peoples’ lands and territories, or involving their resources, based on the principle of self-determination, and not only at the initial stage of project development, but also throughout the project cycle. Direct access, full and effective participation, and the recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ positive contribution to the GCF goals and climate actions, including in country readiness and country programming, remained key calls of Indigenous Peoples in 2019.

REDD+ results based payments

In 2019, for the first time, the Board approved projects for REDD+ results-based payments (RBP). Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Ecuador received REDD+ RBP amounting to a total of USD$228.7 million.[17] Indigenous Peoples advocated for ensuring non-carbon benefits and compliance with the REDD+ Cancun Safeguards, the Paris Agreement and the GCF IP Policy, including proper FPIC processes, benefit-sharing schemes and inclusion of the knowledge and rights of Indigenous Peoples. Some of the REDD+ projects, especially the one in Brazil, were highly criticised by civil society for the lack of permanence of forest cover in the areas where RBP were allocated.

The first case of the Independent Redress Mechanism

The Independent Redress Mechanism (IRM) of the GCF concluded its first self-initiated preliminary inquiry into the GCF Funded Project 001 (FP001) ‘Building the Resilience of Wetlands in the Province of Datem del Marañón, Peru’, which was the first project approved by the GCF, dating back to 2015.[18] The decision to initiate the preliminary inquiry was motivated by information contained in three civil society articles, hereunder two briefing papers by Tebtebba and Forest Peoples’ Programme.[19] Key concerns regard the lack of clarity on how the project will affect the ongoing efforts of Indigenous Peoples to secure recognition of their collective customary lands; lack of information regarding Indigenous Peoples’ rights to customary lands and their use of natural resources; limited disclosure of information regarding project risks; weak enforcement of FPIC; and miscategorisation of the project.[20] The IRM found that “...the evidence reviewed in its preliminary inquiry leads the IRM to the prima facie conclusion that the information in the three articles referred to above on miscategorisation and inadequacy of FPIC was credible”.[21] The IRM followed up with the GCF Secretariat which agreed to time-bound actions around FPIC documentation requirements and risk categorisation in projects involving Indigenous Peoples.

Graeme Reed is of mixed Anishinaabe and European descent. He works at the Assembly of First Nations leading their involvement in federal and international climate policy, including recently as co-Chair of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change at COP 25. In his free time, he is completing a doctorate at the University of Guelph studying the intersection of Indigenous governance, environmental governance, and the climate crisis.

Tunga Bhadra Rai belongs to the Rai Indigenous Nationality of Nepal. He completed a Master’s Degree in Anthropology from Tribhuvan University and participated in the Cornell Nepal Study Program. He works with the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN) Climate Change Partnership Program based in Nepal.

Lærke Marie Lund Petersen is a social geographer from University of Copenhagen and Policy Advisor at IWGIA. She follows the GCF board meetings as a representative of IWGIA.

Stefan Thorsell is Climate Advisor and Programme Coordinator at IWGIA. He coordinates partner projects in Myanmar, Peru and Tanzania.

Notes and references

 [1] See United Nations Treaty Collection. Accessed 26 February 2020:

[2] Green Climate Fund. Accessed 26 February 2020:

[3] Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). 2019. IPBES Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Available at:; Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2019. IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land. Available from:

[4] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2019. Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 ºC. Available from:; Inuit Taparit Kanatami. (2019). National Inuit Climate Change Strategy. Available from:

[5] These barriers are in addition to standard barriers that Indigenous Peoples face while participating in the UNFCCC. The article “Pursuing an Indigenous Platform: Exploring Opportunities and Constraints for Indigenous Participation in the UNFCCC” outlined three categories that merit further exploration: material constraints (funding, badges and lack of translation), procedural constraints (closed meetings, uneven access and scientific/technical jargon), and recognition-based constraints (lack of political will, disrespect, tokenism and the physical/emotional toll of attendance).

[6] United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFPCCC). The draft conclusions can be found here: Accessed 26 February 2020.

[7] United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFPCCC). The decision on the platform can be found here: Accessed 26 February 2020.

[8] United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFPCCC). A summary of the meeting, and the additional mandated events, can be found here: Accessed 26 February 2020.

[9] United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFPCCC). The full, adopted workplan can be found in the annex: Accessed 26 February 2020.

[10] For a further explanation see “Connecting the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform to Domestic Climate Challenges in Canada”. Centre for International Governance Innovation, 4 July 2019:

[11] Green Climate Fund (GCF) First Replenishment (GCF-1): Replenishment Summary Report Accessed 26 February 2020.

[12] Green Climate Fund (GCF). The IP Policy can be found on the GCF website in English and Spanish:

[13] Green Climate Fund (GCF). The Operational Guidelines of the IP Policy can be found on the GCF website: Accessed 26 February 2020.

[14] Green Climate Fund (GCF).The workplan of the Board 2020-2023 can be found at the GCF website:  Accessed 26 February 2020.

[15]  Green Climate Fund (GCF). The draft GCF Strategic plan 2020-2023 can be found on the GCF website under B.24 documents: Accessed 26 February 2020.

[16] Green Climate Fund (GCF). See decision document: Accessed 26 February 2020.

[17] See country profiles for Ecuador, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay at the GCF website:

[18] The IRM Summary of findings report can be accessed at the IRM website: Accessed 26 February 2020.

[19] See The Green Climate Fund and Free, Prior and Informed Consent and a Call for the Adoption of an Indigenous Peoples Policy: The Lessons from a Wetland Project in Peru, published by Tebtebba and Forest Peoples Programme in December 2015, (English version) Accessed 26 February 2020:,

 El Fondo Verde para el Clima y el Consentimiento libre, Previo e Informado y un llamado para la Adopción de una Política sobre Pueblos Indígenas: Las Lecciones de un Proyecto de Humedales en el Perú, Diciembre 2015, (Versión en Español). Accessed 26 February 2020:

[20] Green Climate Fund (GCF). IRM Summary of findings report p. 3 Accessed 26 February 2020.

[21] Ibid. Page 7


This article is part of the 34th edition of the The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced.  Find The Indigenous World 2020 in full here

Tags: Global governance, Climate



IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting and defending Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Read more.

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