COP28: What is a Just Energy Transition for Indigenous Peoples?

Climate change is decimating Indigenous ecosystems and there are differing interpretations of what a just transition to green energy from fossil fuels looks like. For industry, a just transition means protecting the jobs of oil and gas workers as the economy shifts away from a dependency on oil and gas toward a decarbonized world. Whereas for Indigenous Peoples and allied climate advocates, seeking a global shift to green energy means asserting the importance of justice and fairness; this requires holding rich and industrialized nations accountable for reducing the use of fossil fuels and moving to cleaner sources of energy. Ultimately, if the survival of Indigenous communities’ is considered, what is needed is global renewable energy revolution to reduce the impact of climate change on “communities that played little role in causing [the] crisis.”

The International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate (IIPFCC), often referred to as the Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus, addressed the COP28 opening plenary session stating how they would influence negotiations and “assert their inherent, distinct, internationally recognized rights.” Indigenous Peoples representing seven socio-cultural regions of the IIPFCC (i.e., Africa, The Arctic, Asia, North America and the Caribbean, The Pacific, Russia and Eastern Europe) called for several strategies for a “just transition that respects Indigenous rights and knowledge”; these are:

  • A mechanism for presenting grievances when carbon trading and offset schemes might impact the rights and lands of Indigenous [P]eoples;
  • Strategies that prioritize the prevention of catastrophic loss and damage from climate change;
  • Direct access to funds when damage occurs;
  • Equitable phaseout of fossil fuels

All these strategies are part of an overall call by Indigenous leaders at COP28 to end false solutions to climate change in favour of nature-based solutions, and while keeping the aim to limit global warming central. As experts in environmental defense, Indigenous climate advocates have declared that “enough is enough.” Speaking at COP28 Dr. Myrle Ballard of Lake St. Martin First Nation, who is also an associate professor at the University of Manitoba and chief advisor for Indigenous science with Environment and Climate Change Canada, spoke to the CBC about the crucial role that Indigenous Peoples play in witnessing and documenting the impact of climate change on the land; she noted: “It’s Indigenous people’s observations that are really critical because … they’re the predictors of what’s happening in real time, what’s happening on the land. They’re the early warning system.”

At the time of writing this article, the UN was still negotiating a final agreement at COP28, extending the meeting time to reach a final deal, with a phase out or phase down to, ultimately, signal an end to fossil fuels. However, as reported, “[g]lobal consumption of oil is at a record high and is expected to increase further during the next few years at least” and, based on the first draft COP28 agreement, the requirement for a “just transition” to end the use of fossil fuels is looking like an optional one.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image Credit: Eelco Bohtlingk, Unsplash)

COP28, the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference, takes place in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from November 30 to December 12, 2023. Given the thematic organization of the conference, Indigenous Peoples are highlighted on the sixth day of the conference. Meanwhile, Indigenous advocates are working to place Indigenous rights and self-determination at the forefront of all discussions.

The first two days of COP28, following the launch day, are devoted to the World Climate Action Summit, where a Global Stocktake response will be presented, as mandated by the Paris Agreement, and accountability will be sought from countries. After the opening Summit, COP28 is organized by thematic areas, where each day is focused on a set of themes:

  • Health/Relief Recovery, and Peace
  • Finance/Trade/Gender Equality/ Accountability
  • Energy and Industry/ Just Transition/ Indigenous Peoples
  • Multilevel Action, Urbanization and Built Environment/Transport
  • Youth, Children, Education and Skills
  • Nature, Land Use, and Oceans.
  • Food, Agriculture, and Water

The last two days of COP28 are devoted to final negotiations.

Indigenous Peoples are concerned that the COP28 talks will lead to an expansion of false climate solutions rather than nature-based solutions to climate change. World Indigenous leaders will continue to shed light on “how resources needed for sustainable energy threaten Indigenous land and people.” Indigenous Climate Action (Canada) intends to put Indigenous rights at the forefront of COP28 talks, while drawing from their 2021 Report Decolonizing Climate Policy in Canada. Furthermore, enhancing Indigenous participation in decision making at COP 28 will remain a priority for Indigenous advocates.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image Credit: Kevin Long, Unsplash)