Indigenous Activism Has Helped Lower Greenhouse Gases by 24 Percent

Protesta por Standing Rock

A new report released by the Indigenous Environmental Network and Oil Change International, shows the positive impact indigenous peoples’ fight for the environment has had in lowering greenhouse gas emissions. According to the report, by quantifying the amount of carbon dioxide that has been stopped or delayed in the last decade through indigenous and environmental activism, there has been a 24 percent reduction of the annual CO2e emissions in the United States and Canada. 

“In this report, we demonstrate the tangible impact these Indigenous campaigns of resistance have had in the fight against fossil fuel expansion,” said the report’s authors. “Indigenous Peoples have developed highly effective campaigns that utilize a blended mix of non-violent direct action, political lobbying, multimedia, divestment, and other tactics to accomplish victories in the fight against neoliberal projects that seek to destroy our world via extraction.”

The study makes a synthesis of more than 20 indigenous struggles for territorial sovereignty and prior consent in various regions of Turtle Island and records their impact in fighting the climate crisis. From protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge against gas and oil projects to multiple struggles against heavy crude oil pipelines fed from the tar sands environmental destruction in Alberta, Canada, indigenous peoples and their allies have made a significant dent in curbing global warming. Representatives of Cree, Dene, Métis, Wolastoq, Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Kanesatà’ke Mohawk, Iroquois, Tsleil-Waututh, Wet’suwet’en, Ojibwe, Standing Rock Sioux Nations, among many others, have risked their freedom, safety, and bodies defending territories and the planet.

To determine the impact of these struggles, Oil Change International calculated the amount of greenhouse gas pollution emitted by a specific number of extractivist projects; their estimates could be higher if all future projects and concessions were taken into account. Through a comparative study on extractivist projects that were stopped or suspended thanks to resistance struggles between 2009-2019, the authors managed to calculate their results:

“Total Indigenous resistance against these projects on Turtle Island—including ongoing struggles, victories against projects never completed, and infrastructure unfortunately in current operation—adds up to 1.8 billion metric tons CO2e, or roughly 28 percent the size of 2019 U.S. and Canadian pollution. Victories in infrastructure fights alone represent the carbon equivalent of 12 percent of annual U.S. and Canadian pollution, or 779 million metric tons CO2e. Ongoing struggles equal 12 percent of these nations’ annual pollution, or 808 million metric tons CO2e. If these struggles prove successful, this would mean Indigenous resistance will have stopped greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of annual total U.S. and Canadian emissions.

Graph showing impact of indigenous struggles in lowering greenhouse gases
Source: Oil Change International

The authors of the report emphasize and warn about the growing criminalization of indigenous peoples in resistance, as well as the collaboration and complicity of local and state police forces with extractive transnational corporations. They recognize that threats and murders against indigenous peoples occur worldwide and note that in 2021, for example, a leader was assassinated in the Amazon every two days. Indicators show that indigenous peoples suffer disproportionate repression compared to the total population fighting for the environment. “Between 2015 and 2019, over one-third of all fatal attacks have targeted Indigenous people — even though Indigenous communities make up only 5% of the world’s population,” the report notes, citing Global Witness.

“The numbers don’t lie. Indigenous peoples have long led the fight to protect Mother Earth and the only way forward is to center Indigenous knowledge and keep fossil fuels in the ground,” said Dallas Goldtooth of Indigenous Environmental Network in its press release.