#EarthtoParis: How Rainforest Alliance Shares Stories from the Front Lines of Climate Change

This is the second blog in our digital ethnography series.
Written by Chad Rachubinski 

In 1987, the Rainforest Alliance was founded with the mission of conserving biodiversity and ensuring sustainable livelihoods by transforming land use practices, business practices and consumer. Since launching a certification program for forests in the 1990s, and expanding that certification program into a labeling mark for consumer products in the 1990s, the Rainforest Alliance has emerged as a large multinational NGO (non-governmental organization) with over 300 employees today.

Although the Rainforest Alliance still continues its primary mission of certifying farming practices and agriculture products, primarily coffee, bananas and cocoa, in recent years, Rainforest Alliance has expanded in scope and now is advocating for a larger response to climate change in addition to highlighting successful projects it has been involved in at the COP21 negotiations in Paris.

In the weeks leading up to the Paris negotiations, the Rainforest Alliance has promoted their work, as well as advocated for additional responses to climate change both digitally and in person in the Climate Generations area of the COP21 venue. The theme for Rainforest Alliance’s presence in the COP 21 arena, both physically and socially has been “stories from the front lines of climate change” in which they have been highlighting the experiences with REDD+ Projects, sustainable farming practices workshops and other initiatives by sharing the stories of farmers and forest dependent people who have been affected by climate change, or are improving farming practices to be more sustainable.

Seven days prior to the start of the COP21 negotiations, Rainforest Alliance ‘handed over’ their social media accounts to photographer and environmental filmmaker James Balog, who featured daily pictures of the effects of climate change, including melting ice caps, endangered species and forest fires. This tactic primarily evoked a sense of urgency before the negotiations and was only featured on Instagram, before the larger COP 21 theme became prevalent on all of their digital channels. Since the negotiations began, Rainforest Alliance has shifted to a storytelling approach, highlighting the forest dependent farmers and other people affected by climate change. Rainforest Alliance has also highlighted this approach in the physical space in Paris with ten delegates and a booth in the Climate Generations civil society space. In addition, Rainforest Alliance has participated in a number of panel discussions, particularly highlighting local forest governance projects in Guatemala, which have, according to the Rainforest Alliance, reduced deforestation to almost zero. By focusing on the people impacted by deforestation instead of the economics involved with climate issues, Rainforest Alliance has so far directed attention to their projects and positions, as well as their vision for the future.


Report on the Indigenous Struggle for Recognition at COP21

Written by Fernando Tormos, PhD Candidate in Political Science at the Political Science Department of Purdue University and a member of the International Network of Scholar Activists

If it were possible to do a word count of all of the words spoken in Paris during the 21st Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP21), I would not be surprised if the word finance came out on top. As a leader of an indigenous peoples’ group recently told me in reference to the United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) program, “money is a necessary evil; without it, we wouldn’t be here in Paris.” Yet, discussions of so-called “climate financing” or “green financing” tend to dominate the sorts of exchanges that are taking place here in Paris while discussions of human rights, the rights of indigenous peoples, gender and racial equality, and the adverse effect of climate change and the extractive practices of multinational corporations on frontline communities are relegated to a second plane.[1] Environmental, indigenous, and global justice activists have faced numerous challenges at COP21. Mainly, activists are burdened with having to push the conference organizers to honor their commitment to transparency and the inclusion of civil society while also having to advocate for the recognition of human, and specifically indigenous peoples rights in the legally binding sections of the draft agreement.

One can find indications of the relegation of discussions on human and, specifically, of indigenous peoples rights in the most recently published draft of the Paris accord. Negotiators have been working on this draft for months now. Coming into Paris, after the latest round of negotiations in Bonn, Germany, the draft of the accord included a clause that articulated the purpose of the agreement and recognized the rights of marginalized groups—Article 2.2.[2] This clause is particularly important for indigenous peoples because, beyond recognizing individual human rights, it also recognizes the collective rights of indigenous peoples and of Mother Earth.
The most recently published draft of the Paris accord dealt a blow to a multitude of social movements and marginalized social groups when Article 2.2 was taken out of the main body of the draft agreement and placed in the Addendum. What this means is that the bringing the language on the rights of indigenous peoples, gender equality, the protection of Mother Earth, decent work and quality jobs, and intergenerational equity back into the accord is not completely off of the negotiating table. Yet, negotiators leave marginalized groups a very small window of opportunity for securing a legally binding accord that is based on principles of global justice.

The removal of this language hasn’t been the only challenge that environmental and global justice organizations have faced. On top of having to advocate for this language, indigenous peoples have had to push national delegates to keep clauses that recognize the value of the traditional and ancestral knowledge of indigenous peoples, advocate for greater inclusion of civil society in the negotiations, and press the French presidency of the COP to honor its commitment to transparency.

Indigenous peoples present in Paris continue to stand firm in resistance to the denial of their rights and to the policy silences that would allow for the continuation of exploitative and extractive practices in their territories. After 21 Conferences of Parties national delegations continue to debate whether the climate accord should recognize and represent marginalized groups, and whether they should entail a form of economic redistribution. The abolitionist Fredrick Douglass once said: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will…The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” Environmental and global justice movements remain resilient, as they always have, in spite of the challenges that they face in these negotiations. They seem to understand perfectly what intellectuals have noted; that freedom and solidarity are constant and ongoing struggles (Andrews 2004; Weldon 2006).

After 21 Conferences of Parties of the UNFCCC, there may come a day when frontline communities and, specifically, indigenous peoples, no longer recognize the legitimacy of these international negotiations. If these international negotiations continue on the same path that they have traversed for the past two decades, these coral reefs of international activism may share the fate of our Ocean’s coral reefs.[3] This future, however proximate it may be, is hard and perhaps fruitless to predict. Yet, what does seem clear is that the oppressed of this Earth will continue to find hope and inspiration in the sacrifices that so many have made in their struggles for a more just world. Their sacrifices fuel our belief that another world is possible.


[1] A recent report by the Climate Policy Initiative provides indicators on the growth of climate financing initiatives in recent years. This report may be found at: <http://climatepolicyinitiative.org/publication/global-landscape-of-climate-finance-2015/&gt;

[2] The article read as follows: “[This Agreement shall be implemented on the basis of equity and science, in [full] accordance with the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities [, in the light of national circumstances] [the principles and provisions of the Convention], while ensuring the integrity and resilience of natural ecosystems, [the integrity of Mother Earth, the protection of health, a just transition of the workforce and creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities] and the respect, protection, promotion and fulfillment of human rights for all, including indigenous peoples, including the right to health and sustainable development, [including the right of people under occupation] and to ensure gender equality and the full and equal participation of women, [and intergenerational equity].]”

[3] Sidney Tarrow (2001) referred to international institutions as coral reefs for international activism. The loss of legitimacy of these institutions in the eyes of indigenous peoples may limit the extent to which indigenous peoples spend resources and efforts on attending international negotiations that systematically deny them substantive representation and participation.

Andrews KT. 2004. Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: The Mississippi Civil Rights Movement and Its Legacy. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press.
Tarrow, Sidney G. 2001. “Transnational Politics: Contention and Institutions in International Politics.” Annual Review of Political Science (4): 1–20.
Weldon, S. Laurel. 2006. “Inclusion, Solidarity, and Social Movements: The Global Movement against Gender Violence.” Perspectives on Politics 4 (1): 55-74.  

Connecting Cultures at COP 21

Written by Scott Benzing


 Over the course of the past week I have spent a lot of time walking around the civil society portion of the COP 21, and one observation that I have made is how diverse the crowd of people truly is. People from all over the globe have made the journey to Paris, and every single one of them shares a passion for preserving the environment.
Even though this huge variety of races, ethnicities, and religions is present at the COP 21, most of those in attendance are dressed in suits or business casual attire, with the occasional person sporting blue jeans and a light jacket. But for some people, their attire is much more unique and meaningful. There are a number of indigenous peoples attending this conference from all over the world, and many of them have chosen to adorn their traditional clothing to the event. The vivid traditional garb worn by these people provides a stark contrast to the sea of ties and khaki pants, and draws the attention of everyone who passes by. Whenever someone wears a particularly intricate or colorful outfit, it is not uncommon to see a small congregation of people huddle nearby taking photographs.
Indigenous peoples at COP 21 are not limiting themselves to only dressing in their traditional attire, they are also sharing their languages, songs, stories, food, and cultures with everyone in attendance. All of the events involving indigenous peoples are limited to one area of the civil society building, but that has not stopped them from permeating through the rest of the venue.
Today I was fortunate enough to witness an older Russian indigenous woman in traditional clothing perform throat singing to a techno beat that a young French DJ was playing in the middle of the convention. The crowd of people around the stage was huge, and everyone in attendance cheered and applauded this beautiful mixing of cultures. This is just one example of how people have been putting aside their cultural differences here in Paris in order to make connections with others. Regardless of what the policy outcomes of the COP 21 negotiations are, I will leave Paris with a smile on my face knowing that all these thousands of people came together in harmony for at least a little while.

False(?) Presentations of the Inclusion and Recognition of Indigenous Peoples

Written by Sarah Huang


 Today I attended a panel organized by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) called “Indigenous Voices and Climate Change: Outcomes of National Indigenous Peoples-Gov. Dialogues”. This panel included five indigenous peoples from Tanzania, Guatemala, Thailand, Vietnam, and Samoa as well as three government representatives from Dominican Republic, Norway, and Guyana. The dialogue that occurred throughout this meeting was interesting in the sense that it seemed to be guided by this relationship of collaboration between government and indigenous peoples, whether there was government recognition of indigenous peoples or not. The goal of these dialogues is to create more equitable spaces by incorporating the views of indigenous peoples in the negotiations. These dialogues will show the impact of climate change on livelihoods that will facilitate a trusting relationship between government and indigenous peoples, a relationship that has been severed in many cases.
While this process of indigenous participation and representation at this so called ‘table’ is encouraging, I think it is really important to be critical to the ways in which indigenous peoples are being invited to this ‘table’, or the ways that the government talks about indigenous representation. For example, one of the government representatives talked about the importance of government to educate local peoples on the effects of climate change and adaptation of climate change. This discourse about educating indigenous peoples undermines the authority and autonomy that indigenous peoples have over their own knowledge systems, but also over their own experiences. It assumes that their experiences are not legitimate in their own right and require governmental intervention and education in order for it to have an authority that is recognizable by government and other state actors.

So when I was trying to write a title for this blog, I was thinking about different ways of thinking about this issue. It seems like a struggle of legitimation, authority, and autonomy, but I think at the heart of it is really this issue of recognition and the right to be recognized. This right for recognition and respect of rights is a demand that indigenous peoples have been pushing for here at COP21, and was definitely lacking in this specific panel presentation from government officials. It makes me wonder about the relationship between recognition and legitimacy and the role that legitimacy may play in the recognition of indigenous rights. Does a recognition of indigenous rights require the legitimacy from government or does the demand for a recognition of indigenous rights from indigenous people create an autonomous legitimacy?

It also makes me think about something talked about yesterday during Africa Day, where many indigenous peoples spoke about false solutions to climate change that result in the displacement of indigenous peoples through development of clean energy solutions (examples include geothermal energy and hydropower). I think this term ‘false’ is an appropriate representation of how indigenous peoples are once again at the short end of a just climate solution that is based on the continuous colonialist discourses that were displayed in this panel session earlier today. The idea of legitimizing indigenous peoples’ knowledges and experiences through an ‘education about climate effects’ is the same strategy of colonialism and imperialism that indigenous peoples have experienced for too long. It is time to advocate for a climate change solution that is recognizes the colonialist history of oppression and proposes a decolonized approach for a just system. And maybe then, we may actually understand indigenous recognition where governments, heads of state, and COP21 delegates have the capacity to understand indigenous livelihoods and experiences in respect their autonomy and rights.

Is hydropower the answer?

The following blog entry was written by Rohit Bhonagiri, an accounting student in Dr. Marion Suiseeya’s International Environmental Policy class. The students in this class are conducting a digital ethnography of COP21.

Rohit’s blog was originally posted on his own website: https://intransitman.wordpress.com/2015/12/02/is-hydropower-the-answer/

COP21 began on the 30th of November and things look good because all the actors are scurrying about making historic speeches about saving the environment. I have been following issues related to women and indigenous women at COP21.

After looking at all the tweets on the women’s movements in Paris, I got a request to follow the World Economic Forum (WEF). The first tweet I came across was a picture with statistics of the renewable energy profile for the world which said that hydropower is the most efficient renewable energy and is better than other renewable sources because it can store electricity for later use. The benefits outweigh the costs, economic costs. One of my classmates, Eiji, mentioned that Brazil said that they are working hard on the environmental front and people should be optimistic of COP21. What they forgot to mention is any indigenous or human rights. Another place that indigenous, human and women’s rights is not mentioned is the non-paper that is submitted for negotiation. Brazil gets about 70% of its electricity from hydropower despite strong opposition from indigenous people that have lost their area. This now takes this issue to a new dimension of climate justice.  Background on these issues can be got from articles at the bottom of this blog.

From what I know indigenous people face a big obstacle, state sovereignty.  All states exercise power over the people and some need to adapt and make sacrifices. Indigenous people aren’t a big part on state economies and cannot wield power like Oil and gas companies. Should mitigation tactics include a drastic reduction in consumption like what Kalyani Raj overemphasized on in “Women’s Red Flags for the Climate Talks”? Whatever the next source of energy is, we must consider the social costs of it.

Africa Day: Desertification and Pastoralism

Written by Liz Wulbrecht


Today was Africa day at the indigenous pavilions. Men and women were passionately sharing their stories about climate change and traditional practices. A large majority of African indigenous people are pastoralist nomads. They roam the land with their cattle, both human and beast feeding off the earth. Climate change has caused the warming of the land and air, reducing precipitation, and thus compromising indigenous and animal ability to live off of their ancestral land. The grass that feeds the cattle no longer grows. And the milk that feeds these people no longer pours so freely as fifty or twenty years ago.

The pastoralist way of life is dying because of the warming earth. Men have to live in the cities to find jobs to feed and support their families. A Maasai woman discussed how women are overworked and burdened. Many have to work multiple jobs. A Kichwa women complained that women can no longer gather and consume traditional foods. These indigenous women are hurting. Indigenous men are hurting. A traditional cattle farmer apologized for his status. He said I am a farmer not an intellectual or academic, but I’m here to share my story, and he did. The trees and grass his people knew for generations have died and the cattle along with it. He spoke plainly and clearly. Life as he knew it, has ended.

It’s only been two days at the conference, but I’ve heard countless stories of the devastation from climate change. A woman in the crowd asked if actors in the official negotiations knew of these people’s stories. That is why these groups are here, to make their voices heard.

Indigenous Recognition: The Bare Minimum

Written by Sarah Huang

Today was the first day of the Indigenous Peoples Pavilion as well as the Civil Society “Climate Generations” meetings. Our Civil Society team: Kim, Suraya, Liz, Scott and I were split into three teams and headed to our various meetings. Suraya and I were a team and had events located in both the Civil Society rooms and the IPP (Indigenous Peoples Pavilion). Laura and Fernando were our representatives at the ‘blue zone’ side event meetings.


The grand opening at the IPP was a motivating space for me today. It reminded me of why I am invested in environmental justice and indigenous rights. The passion that came out of this room was easily sensed in the voices of indigenous peoples all over North America (Today was North America day in the IPP. There is a different theme for each of the days during COP21). There were talks about the effects of coal mining, fracking, dams, and lack of recognition by the federal government. All of these environmental, social, and cultural harms have effects on the health and well-being of these peoples. Their passion and the strength of their voices portrayed a sense of hope that I had not felt as strongly from the other meetings that I had attended today.

I was really struck by one indigenous woman from Alberta, Canada who spoke about how at bare minimum, they want recognition from state actors and delegates at COP21. It was shocking to me how these women can talk about all of these environmental and social harms, such as pollution of their river ways and being physically driven off of their lands, or the high cancer rates in their communities, but the root of all of this is the lack of recognition. She spoke about the lack of recognition of their land and cultural rights. Others throughout the day spoke about lack of recognition from the UN, or the US government, or even COP21. They were not invited to the formal ‘blue zone’ meetings or to have their own delegates at these meetings. They are not recognized by the UN. The US government has recognized some tribes, but promotes policies that support the degradation of environments. For example, the US government promotes the reduction of dependency on foreign oil and yet promotes the fracking and degradation of indigenous land for the drilling of oil.

This demand for recognition at COP21 does not come easily, as one indigenous woman expressed. She talked about how she doesn’t understand COP21 because that has meant that it has been 21 years where nothing has been done. She came to this meeting to say that we can’t have a COP22. The bluntness about this statement took me aback when I actually started to consider how, just within the COP context, it has been 21 years where there has been no agreement, and indigenous peoples are still not invited to speak on their own behalf. It is frustrating for me to sit and hear this, but it is hopeful to see all of these voices coming together to speak up. This woman closed on the idea that if they never make their voices heard, then they will have failed. And so they are hear demanding for respect of indigenous rights, which would also mean the protection of their environments and their cultures.

What will we see at the close of COP21? How does indigenous representation at ‘blue zone’ side meetings influence the climate negotiations? Stay tuned for future reports on events in the IPP. I also recommend that you look at the list of demands at COP 21from the Indigenous Environmental Network.