Levi Sucre arrived at COP27 outraged. During his speech at the Forests and Climate Leaders Summit on 7 November, Sucre claimed that while the leaders of the Global North discussed how climate change impacts the world, there was no respite from the climate crisis in his indigenous communityin the southern Caribbean region of Costa Rica. Sucre, activist and indigenous leader of the Bribri people and coordinator of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests (AMPB), says he would rather be at home in Costa Rica, but the need to seek justice made him cross the world to Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt.
A year ago, at the last COP in Glasgow, several companies and nations from the Global North announced that they would donate 1.7 billion US dollars to support the efforts of rural and indigenous communities working for forest protection. So far only seven per cent of the funds have gone directly to these groups, according to the annual monitoring report of the Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities Forest Tenure Pledge. Around 50 per cent of the funds delivered under this commitment were channelled through intermediary non-governmental organizations rather than directly to the communities, as was part of the agreement. According to Sucre, to date most of these funds have still not reached the indigenous communities that work to conserve thousands of protected areas in Latin America.
This was one of the reasons that led Sucre, and dozens of other indigenous leaders, to demand that the world powers gathered in Egypt take specific actions on this issue. Their requests are simple: that funds already budgeted be given directly to indigenous communities and that governments allocate more funds to fight the climate crisis in these areas.
Funding for forest protection is just one of the many things Costa Rica’s indigenous communities need in order to achieve some semblance of climate justice.
Costa Rica’s latest national census indicates that at least 100,000 Costa Ricans identify as members of one of the country’s eight indigenous communities. Many of these live in dire socio-economic circumstances, according to data from the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA). For example, 70 per cent of the Bribri people, the community where Levi Sucre comes from, live below the poverty line. Another representative of the Bribri people who works with the Kábata Könana Women’s Association, Heylin Sánchez, believes that the impact of climate change on these communities is one of the main reasons behind these statistics: floods are becoming increasingly frequent, preventing successful harvests and leaving members of the community without food, forcing them to migrate from the villages to the capital in search of work.
For Lina Torres, a Colombian political scientist and director of projects and strategy for non-governmental organisation Movilizatorio, states must seek to comply with parameters to compensate for the irreparable damage that indigenous communities are suffering. »Climate justice, in the end, is to ensure that these impacts, which were caused by other countries, are not dumped on indigenous communities as much,« she emphasises.
Sucre believes that another of the factors that make their communities vulnerable to the climate crisis is that the government does not listen to their requests and ideas for measures that can be implemented to protect them from the effects. »Yes, governments in the past have done some things [in our villages]. But never with the vision of addressing the direct problems of climate change in our communities [...] We need them to listen to us,« says the community leader.
Both Sucre and Sánchez believe that Costa Rica has at least tried to support the conservation of its communities’ forests, but the authorities still neglected to involve these communities in the decisions on climate issues in the country. They also feel that the government fails to protect their indigenous environmental leaders. In the last three years, two members of Costa Rica’s indigenous communities have been murdered for participating in the recovery of territories invaded by landowners and settlers. The government has not resolved either case.
Sucre says that his community will continue with its climate empowerment projects, whether they have funding or not. »We are making progress looking for solutions to the crisis, even though the country’s vision neglects our issues,« he says. They will still continue to demand that states fund their contributions, hoping that one day indigenous solutions will be properly taken into account in the fight against climate change.
Yamlek Mojica is a Nicaraguan journalist based in Costa Rica since 2018. In her home country, she worked as a multimedia journalist for the internationally multi-awarded publications Confidencial and Revista Niú. During that time she won four national awards, including the Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Award for Excellence in Journalism. In recent years her work covered gender, immigration, and environmental issues in the coastal areas of Costa Rica.