Equator Prize Award Ceremony Lauds Indigenous Peoples’ Central Role in Climate Change Fight

Dec 8, 2015

Photo: UNDP

PARIS - In the midst of Paris climate negotiations, UN Development Programme (UNDP) chief Helen Clark and actor and activist Alec Baldwin hosted the Equator Prize 2015 award ceremony this week to recognize the perseverance of Indigenous Peoples and local communities in 19 countries worldwide, whose efforts are helping to tackle climate change and protect the environment.

The ceremony in central Paris saw renowned environmental leaders like anthropologist Jane Goodall, former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, Greenpeace Director Kumi Naidoo, Norwegian Ambassador Hans Brattskar and UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, among others, honor 21 outstanding indigenous and local community groups from Africa, Asia and Latin America. Winning groups were honored for their remarkable achievements in tackling climate change using innovative measures to reduce poverty, protect nature and strengthen resilience.

“Our winners tonight are an inspiration,” noted Clark. “Climate change affects all of us—rich and poor, developed and developing, urban and local. It is truly an all-of-society concern that requires an equally all-of-society approach. The people and groups here tonight have shown that action and innovation against climate change can and does happen at all levels, and this should be encouraged, supported and scaled up.”

The high-profile event, known as the “Academy Awards for Sustainable Development,” packed the Théâtre Mogador in the 9th arrondissement with 1,500 people, and featured videos on the 21 winning initiatives narrated by actor and activist Edward Norton and a musical performance by Amadou & Mariam, a Grammy-nominated duo from Mali. The focus of the evening, however, was the award presentation, during which the winners’ diverse accomplishments were highlighted.

“We do not ask for gifts,” said Maria Incarnación Janamejoy, a member of the Inga indigenous community in Aponte, Colombia who represented the prize-winning Wuasikimas, el Modelo del Pueblo Inga group. “We are part of the solution, with our millenial knowledge and proven practices that have sustained life for generations.”

Caught in the crosshairs of Colombia’s drug trade, the Inga recovered rights to 22,283 hectares of ancestral territory through a groundbreaking deal with the Colombian government: the government funded Inga’s efforts to expel armed guerillas, paramilitaries and drug-traffickers that had between 1986 and 2004 violated their territorial rights and degraded their environment.

Among them, the 21 Equator Prize winners have secured land rights for hundreds of communities, saved millions of hectares of forests from destruction, protected endangered wildlife species and created tens of thousands of jobs for their communities. They include groups working in conflict areas in Iran, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as communities like the Inga in Colombia and the Mosquitia in Honduras that suffer from drug trafficking and other crime.

In their statements at the ceremony, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz and Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development Frances Seymour noted the growing body of evidence demonstrating the ability of Indigenous Peoples to protect their forests and outperform other managers of natural resources.

“Too many governments are handing over Indigenous Peoples’ lands for economic gain,” said Brundtland. “Without their rights, Indigenous Peoples are pushed aside in favor of palm oil and other investment activities. The good news is that evidence is beginning to mount…associated with community land rights and the associated social, economic and environmental benefits.”

Alec Baldwin, a supporter of the Equator Prize, noted that putting a spotlight on the awardees will help them to strengthen and expand their efforts going forward. “I am humbled by our winners, people I have had the pleasure of interacting with these last few days. If past awardees are any indication, the recognition of these groups and the support provided will be a boost to their efforts, and I’m proud to play a part in that.”

Countries with winning initiatives include Afghanistan, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia/Kenya (cross-border), Guyana, Honduras, Indonesia, Iran, Madagascar, Malaysia/Indonesia (cross-border), Papua New Guinea, Tanzania and Uganda. This is the first time the Equator Prize is being awarded to groups from Afghanistan, Guyana and Iran.

“You cannot doubt the commitment of Indigenous Peoples to conserving their world,” said Tauli-Corpuz. “They are still saying the same thing and espousing the same values they have for hundreds of years, passed down from their ancestors.”

This year’s winners were chosen from a record 1,461 nominations from across 126 countries. International experts guided a rigorous, months-long process to select the winners.

The Equator Prize, unique for recognizing collective action, rather than individual achievement, awards each winning group US$10,000. Representatives of the winning communities are in Paris for the climate talks to bring their stories from far-flung corners of the world to the negotiations.

In closing the event, Jane Goodall called on the fast-paced modern world to listen to the wisdom and ways of Indigenous Peoples in addressing climate change.

“There is a disconnect between the human brain, with its capacity do so much, and the human heart,” Goodall said. “I believe we will reach our true human potential when the head and heart work in harmony.”

Contact Information

Joseph Corcoran, +1778-987-8189, joseph.corcoran@undp.org

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