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Biofuel threatens indigenous population

Latest update : 2008-04-03

Responsible for rising food prices, biofuel plantations also represent a danger for indigenous populations as significant as climate change itself. The United Nations conference on climate change in Bangkok is studying the issue this week.

Large-scale solutions to help slow global warming often threaten the very indigenous peoples who are among those hardest hit by a changing climate, the U.N. University said on Wednesday.

Biofuel plantations, construction of hydropower dams and measures to protect forests, where trees soak up heat-trapping carbon dioxide gas as they grow, can create conflicts with the ancestral lands of indigenous peoples.

"Biofuel production, renewable energy expansion (and) other mitigation measures (are) uprooting indigenous peoples in many regions," the U.N. University said in a statement on a report released at a conference in Darwin, Australia.

"Indigenous people point to an increase in human rights violations, displacements and conflicts due to expropriation of
ancestral lands and forests for biofuel plantations -- soya, sugar cane, jatropha, oil-palm, corn, etc," it said.

It said the world's estimated 370 million indigenous peoples, from the Arctic to South Pacific islands, were already
exposed on the front line of climate change to more frequent floods, droughts, desertification, disease and rising seas.

"Indigenous people have done least to cause climate change and now the solutions ... are causing more problems for them," said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz from the Philippines, who heads the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Tauli-Corpuz, who also represents the Igorot people, told Reuters that 500,000 indigenous people in the Philippines were
suffering from an expansion of biofuel plantations.

Millions more in Malaysia and Indonesia were affected by plantations, she said in a telephone interview. And in Brazil,
forests were being cleared to make way for soya and sugar cane.

The U.N. University study said the Ugandan Wildlife Authority had forced people to move from their homes in 2002
when 7,000 hectares (17,300 acres) of land was planted as forests to soak up greenhouse gases.

Zakri said indigenous peoples' lifestyles produced none of the greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels in power plants, factories and cars that are blamed for stoking global warming.

By contrast, the United States, with about 300 million people, contributed almost a quarter of world emissions.

Indigenous peoples "have not benefited, in any significant manner, from climate change-related funding ... nor from
emissions trading schemes," A.H. Zakri, head of the U.N. University's Institute of Advanced Studies, said in a statement.

The study said indigenous peoples were exploiting traditional knowledge to help offset climate change.

In northern Australia, Aborigines were getting aid to set small fires after rains that help renew the soil and create fire
breaks to reduce risks of giant wildfires in the dry season.

"This is fire abatement that reduces greenhouse gas emissions from wildfires," said Joe Morrison, head of the North
Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance.

The deal involves funding from ConocoPhillips, which runs a plant processing natural gas from the Timor Sea.

Date created : 2008-04-02