“Without Indigenous Peoples, there will be no solution to climate change”

Sônia Guajajara, executive coordinator of Brazil’s Indigenous movement APIB, issued a warning to world leaders at COP26: involve Indigenous Peoples and reject false solutions – or fail all humanity, and all life on Earth. Here's her speech in full.


Indigenous Peoples in Brazil are in constant struggle on many fronts – against the global food system, climate change, and the destructive policies of President Bolsonaro. The sharp increase in fires, violence and killings that threaten their lives and lands in recent years are a warning for us all.

Sônia Guajajara, the executive coordinator of APIB – the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil – is a powerful voice in the Indigenous movement. Speaking at an event at COP26 – entitled “Net zero smoke and mirrors, a story of betrayal: making the case against carbon market offsetting”, she issued a stark warning to world leaders.

I’m Sônia Guajajara, I come from Brazil. We are here with the biggest Brazilian Indigenous delegation in the history of the COP. Because for us, the climate emergency has already arrived in our territories. 

And we are very worried about all these announcements, and deals that are being signed here without considering or respecting the rights and participation of Indigenous Peoples.

It’s been 26 COP climate conferences already, and what agreements, what effective results can we celebrate to date? 

Emissions continue to increase, and in Brazil, right now, they are attempting to legalise deforestation.

President Bolsonaro presents here targets to end deforestation by 2050. But the way to end deforestation is actually to legalise destruction; is to legalise illegal deforestation and illegal mining. And that is worrying, not only because it affects us, Indigenous Peoples, but life on earth. 

We do not believe in false solutions, in compensation, or in the investment of resources in one country, while allowing another to continue to pollute, without really tackling the root of the problem. 

We are worried about the segregated spaces in this conference. We, Indigenous Peoples, (in our lands) hold 82% of biodiversity living in the world. But here, we are the ones with the smallest space for participation. 

We came here to say that without recognising, without demarcating Indigenous lands, there will be no solution to the climate crisis. 

Without the participation of Indigenous Peoples, there will be no solution.

World leaders need to understand once and for all that we, Indigenous Peoples, are the spokespeople for Mother Earth. And Mother Earth is screaming, Mother Earth is attacking.

And what about when she stops screaming? When our way of living is not respected anymore, who will continue to bring those messages here?

So we do not believe in offsets, we do not believe in compensation. But we believe in participatory processes, in changing the current consumption patterns of society, and in real changes in the mindsets of world leaders.

We cannot continue to participate in conferences and pretend we are driving effective change. We are not.

Society must move. Those in government need to reforest their minds, and understand that climate change is a reality already. Not a problem of the future.

And we, Indigenous Peoples, are here to bring our contributions for all humanity, and for the whole planet.

What are the solutions?

Point one: We need to demarcate Indigenous lands. Be they waters, seas or forests or lands. What is important is that Indigenous territories are protected. 

Second point: It is important you make the right political choices. A good portion of these businessmen that talk about zero carbon, are the same ones that are taking up legislative positions or are lobbying or weakening legislation at home, to facilitate access and exploitation of the environment.

And third point: We need to protect forest defenders. All of them are under great threat. They need security, they need protection, to continue protecting the Earth. And we need to boycott fake solutions – and all the financial mechanisms that do not reach Indigenous Peoples.

What's next?