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Indigenous women from Brazil marched at COP28, symbolically advocating for Indigenous rights in climate negotiations. Credit: Estevam Rafael/Presidência do Brasil.

Indigenous women from Brazil marched at COP28, symbolically advocating for Indigenous rights in climate negotiations. Credit: Estevam Rafael/Presidência do Brasil.

December 20, 2023

Indigenous Peoples Demand Effective Participation and Justice in the COP28 Energy Transition

The summit in Dubai was marked by Indigenous Peoples voicing shared concerns and promoting climate solutions based on traditional knowledge.

After nearly 200 countries agreed to transition away from fossil fuels at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28), Indigenous Peoples are now emphasizing the critical need to actively promote their rights and secure direct access to decision-making spaces. This effort aims to ensure an equitable and just energy transition that prioritizes Indigenous knowledge, wisdom, and values in response to the climate crisis.

The final agreement of the summit includes nine references to Indigenous Peoples, recognizing the imperative to uphold Indigenous rights in all climate actions. It underscores the need for sustainable and equitable solutions rooted in the active participation of Indigenous Peoples, particularly in contexts where they are rights holders.

However, Indigenous Peoples have been expressing their concerns about the implementation of these commitments. Various Indigenous communities and organizations around the world have been stressing the necessity of developing effective mechanisms that will ensure active Indigenous participation in decision-making while respecting their rights, knowledge, and cultures.

“There is no space at COP for Indigenous participation in decision-making. We must articulate ourselves with the governments of the places where we come from so that (...) we can enter the rooms where debates are taking place,” said Wilfredo Tsamash Cabrera (Awajun, Peru), an Indigenous leader working with the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (AIDESEP).

In Dubai, Jennifer Tauli Corpuz (Kankana-ey Igorot), Managing Director of Policy at Nia Tero, highlighted that the energy transition will only be considered just if Indigenous Peoples’ rights are recognized, promoted, and safeguarded through laws and policies. The urgency of such actions escalates with the rising demand for transition minerals, which are primarily concentrated in or near Indigenous territories.

“The need for a just transition must not come at the expense of our rights or compromise our ability to continue practicing our cultural values and our ability to care for the biodiversity and the carbon sequestration capacity of our territories,” said Corpuz during the COP 28 Indigenous Peoples Dialogue.

Regarding the Global Stocktake – which references the collective progress the world has made toward addressing the Paris Climate Agreement, Indigenous Peoples emphasized the necessity of integrating Indigenous rights and contributions into decision texts. They proposed measures to operationalize the loss and damage fund inclusively, such as Indigenous representation on its board, the formulation of specific policies, and securing an active observer seat to bolster efforts.

Across the globe, Indigenous Peoples are stressing that they possess local solutions for mitigation and adaptation rooted in traditional wisdom that could be harnessed as the world seeks to transition away from fossil fuels.

“Indigenous Peoples and women have ancestral practices based on inherited knowledge that has allowed us, at least until today, to have forests as well as nutritional and medicinal biodiversity. Historically, we have contributed, and continue to contribute to, the mitigation of climate change,” said Tarcila Rivera Zea (Quechua, Peru), president of the Centre for Indigenous Cultures of Peru (CHIRAPAQ).


This year, elevated autumn temperatures, warmer water, and remarkably powerful winds have prevented the ice from forming in open waters near coastal communities throughout the Inuit Nunaat - the homeland of Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic, affecting the ability of Inuit hunters to venture out and gather the community's essential food. Typically, sea ice begins to form in many areas by early November, creating safe travel conditions.

In light of such pressing circumstances, the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) has argued that the outcomes of COP28 fall short of the efforts needed to tackle the climate crisis. Similarly, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) described the agreement as merely "incremental,” and expressed frustration at the text's “litany of loopholes” about the intricacies of how a fossil fuel phaseout and mitigation should take place.

“It is vital that Indigenous Peoples are part of the discussions and are able to bring our solutions to the table,” said the ICC Chair, Sara Olsvig. “However, I would like to echo our sisters and brothers in the Small Island Developing States and agree that the results in Dubai are transitional but not transformative. We still have a long way to go — and we haven’t got a lot of time.”

Indigenous Peoples around the world are now advocating for the support and expansion of Indigenous-led climate solutions, along with direct access to climate finance. Inuit and other Arctic Indigenous Peoples are still not eligible for any of the funding mechanisms that were on the table in Dubai. This access is needed to support Indigenous endeavors to integrate technology aimed at promoting climate solutions within their territories.


Amidst the bustling corridors of COP28, Indigenous Peoples have joined forces to voice shared concerns and perspectives, reflecting their unique challenges in the context of climate change negotiations and actions.

The “Lessons in Life: Embedding Indigenous Knowledge into Climate Action” Mastercard event held at Goals House spotlighted how Indigenous knowledge is vital for businesses and organizations to create more impactful climate solutions. At the event, Indigenous leaders shared examples of partnerships where their ancestral knowledge and practices supported a sustainable future.

During the event, Peter Seligmann, CEO of Nia Tero, stressed the importance of Indigenous Peoples having allies from non-Indigenous communities and businesses who trust and listen to their breadth of experience. He also celebrated the power of forging partnerships with communities, governments, and businesses to find innovative solutions to ensure the sustainability of the planet’s natural and cultural resources.

The Indigenous Peoples' Dialogue on COP28’s Indigenous Peoples Day also provided an important platform and served as a poignant reminder of the urgent need for recognition, justice, and action. This message reverberated through the conference rooms and the collective conscience – a plea for justice and respect for the guardians of Mother Earth.

The aim of Indigenous Peoples’ Day during COP28 was to recognize the vital intergenerational wisdom, practices, and leadership of Indigenous Peoples in climate action and planetary health. As a symbolic gesture, Indigenous Peoples from Brazil initiated the day with a collective march toward the summit's venue. Their goal was to advocate for the acknowledgment of Indigenous Peoples as crucial participants in climate action, emphasizing the necessity of including Indigenous voices in climate debate and financing.

To elevate the voices of Indigenous leaders and further Indigenous agendas, Nia Tero joined other organizations to co-host discussions and activities relevant to, and curated by, Indigenous Peoples. Gatherings took place across COP28, including at the Nature Positive Pavilion, Indigenous Peoples’ Pavilion, Goals House, Moana Blue Pacific Pavilion, Museum of the Future, The Climate Fund Pavilion, Peru Pavillion, Canada Pavilion, Colombian Pavilion, Al-Waha Theatre, Al Saih Presidency Roundtable, and Business and Philanthropy Climate Forum. Additionally, Jennifer Tauli Corpuz of Nia Tero spoke at various events hosted by the UN Climate Change High Level Champions.

“Solidarity is when the entire planet, when all of humanity, joins the struggle of Indigenous Peoples, joins the struggle of traditional peoples so that we can save this planet,” said Puyr Tembé (Tembé People), secretary of the Original Peoples of the State of Pará, in Brazil, at the pavilion.