West Papua: A Green State Vision
November 4, 2021
Sadly, West Papua does not have a seat at the table for the UN climate talks currently taking place in Glasgow, Scotland. This is because it is a country whose people are still struggling to gain recognition as an independent state.
This week I spoke to a Raki Ap, a government official from West Papua who had bold and inspiring things to say about the climate crisis. He presented me with a vision of the future in line with the demands of climate science, and also put the needs of people and nature above the pursuit of corporate profits.
West Papua is half of the island of New Guinea, which is home to the third largest rainforest in the world. The indigenous peoples of West Papua have been subjected to brutal military occupation by Indonesia since the 1960s, thanks to a series of shameful Cold War political maneuvers by countries including the United Kingdom and the United States. Under Indonesian control, extractive industries – from Rio Tinto’s gold mine to BP’s gas drilling and new oil palm plantations – have accelerated in West Papua, providing funds to occupiers while bringing deforestation, pollution and allegations of serious human rights violations to the local population. . A 2017 petition calling for an independence referendum – a petition banned by the Indonesian state but released in secret – was signed by 71% of West Papua’s population.
In 2020, the indigenous peoples of West Papua formed their own standby united government, led by exiled independence leader – and now interim president – Benny Wenda. Today at the COP26 climate summit, they released a green vision for a new state of West Papua based on indigenous rights, protection of forests and a rapid transition to a zero carbon world. An independent West Papua would make ecocide a crime, provide free education and health care to its citizens while notifying the extractive industries on its lands. It presents an inspiring model for the types of climate action a government could take, in stark contrast to the inadequate plans presented by so many incumbent governments at COP26.
I went over the details with Raki Ap, West Papua’s official spokesperson for Green State Vision.
What is the vision of the green state?
This is a vision that the interim government is ready to deploy once it gains control of the lands that belong to the indigenous peoples of West Papua. In accordance with international laws and best practices, we have explained how we will restore power to the tribes who have lived there for over 40,000 years.
Once the people of West Papua have control of the land, deforestation will stop. Pollution and human rights abuses will stop and we will be able to take care of the earth again as we did thousands of years ago.
The current extractive industries – mining, gas drilling, palm oil – imposed on us by the Indonesian occupation will be stopped and reduced, in accordance with the wishes of the local population. The tribes will be involved in all decision making that occurs on their lands, and nothing will happen there without their consent.
It is a vision of a state run in the interests of the people, plants and animals, not in the interests of profit.
Why are you launching this vision now, during the UN climate talks?
The world comes together at this most important climate summit. Movements, organizations and governments are looking for solutions, and this is something we offer them: a vision to preserve our half of the world’s largest tropical island, with some of the most unique biodiversity on the planet. , as an essential part of the solution to the climate crisis. All the rest of the world has to do is support us and make sure that we get control of our lands, so that we can protect them for the benefit of all.
About 80% of the world’s biodiversity is found on land that is rightfully owned by indigenous peoples, and scientific research has shown that where indigenous peoples properly control these lands, forests and biodiversity are much better protected. So a first step to get out of this crisis is to give back control of this land to the indigenous peoples.
An independent West Papua would make ecocide a crime, provide free education and health care to its citizens while notifying extractive industries on its lands
How would that be different from the way West Papua is currently governed?
At the hands of Indonesia, we have experienced a historic increase in deforestation. If you look at other parts of Indonesia: Borneo, Kalimantan, the forests are gone. West Papua is the next frontier. If West Papua remains part of Indonesia, this deforestation will continue, with the destruction of the third largest lung in the world, the third largest rainforest in the world. That’s what’s at stake. Right now, the Indonesian government is talking about building a transnational highway in West Papua, which will accelerate deforestation. We have seen what these routes have done in the Amazon.
If you listen to UN scientists, they tell us that we need innovation and new sources of energy to reduce emissions, but we also need every tree to absorb carbon from the air. The self-determination of the West Papuans is vital to ensuring that these forests remain standing.
Under an indigenous government, what will happen to companies like BP and Rio Tinto that currently operate in West Papua?
We will immediately sit down at the negotiating table with these companies and discuss how to reduce their operations. If they can’t operate in a way that respects the well-being and livelihoods of people and the environment, then they shouldn’t be operating in West Papua.
Looking at our comrades from the small island states of the Pacific, which are now threatened by rising sea levels, they are our biggest international supporters and we call them our family. Our position will be to listen to their voices and support their call to end fossil fuels, in accordance with the demands of climate science. We must reduce the production of fossil fuels and defend our forests. This will be the result of any future decision making regarding companies operating in West Papua.
How will you react to the climate change that is already happening?
We hope this will not be necessary, but we are ready to support other Pacific island nations who are losing their lands to rising sea levels, take climate refugees from the region and do whatever it takes. our power to facilitate a future for them.
If West Papua remains part of Indonesia, this deforestation will continue, with the destruction of the third largest lung in the world, the third largest rainforest in the world. This is what is at stake
How does this compare to proposals from other governments at COP26?
Many governments that have sat around the table at previous climate summits have not taken science very seriously. We didn’t see the right attitude or the urgency. Respecting some of the most important stakeholders – the world’s indigenous peoples – and securing their place at the table would be a logical first step. Most of the world’s biodiversity and forests are found on indigenous lands, and UN scientists themselves have concluded that we are the best protectors of this land, so we must have our say.
What do you hope to achieve at COP26?
We will focus on grassroots groups and environmental organizations that should be our first allies, but not yet all on our side. Many large environmental groups talk about biodiversity and climate justice, but have not yet integrated it into their organizations. So, at the COP, we will work to find more allies, to ensure that this fundamental perspective – the so-called indigenous perspective on climate change – is put at the center of political decision-making. I have no expectation that governments around the world will take this into account at COP26, but I hope we can build our own momentum from the bottom up.
What can people do to support your work?
To make this mainstream, we will need everyone’s help. If you are part of an organization, you can ask them to sign the open letter in support of the Green State Vision. And anyone can act as a citizen, register to support the campaign and have their voice heard – talking to people about the importance of the Green State Vision and also the rights of indigenous peoples in general in the debate on the climate change.
Even without freedom and with very few resources, we have created a lot of momentum, including at the UN where 80 countries are now supporting a human rights inquiry in West Papua. So we have shown that change is possible, and if we can do it, then the people of the Global North can certainly do it. We can inspire each other, work together and end this climate crisis – and West Papua’s Green State vision is an example of how we can achieve this.
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