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Water protectors stop construction of Energy Transfers Partners' Bayou Bridge Pipeline in 2017. (Photo:Indigenous Environmental Network)

Report Reveals Indigenous Resistance Disrupts Quarter of US and Canadian Emissions

"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."

Jessica Corbett

Indigenous resistance to fossil fuel projects in the United States and Canada over a recent decade has stopped or delayed nearly a quarter of the nations' annual planet-heating pollution, according to a report released Wednesday.

"The only way forward is to center Indigenous knowledge and keep fossil fuels in the ground."
—Dallas Goldtooth, IEN

The greenhouse gas pollution for Turtle Island, the land now known to settler nation-states as North America, totaled 6.56 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2019—5.83 billion metric tons CO2e for the U.S. and 727.43 million metric tons CO2e for Canada.

Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) and Oil Change International (OCI) examined the climate effects of several contentious projects and the impact of Indigenous protests.

As the new report—entitled Indigenous Resistance Against Carbon (pdf)—explains:

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% the size of 2019 U.S. and Canadian pollution. Victories in infrastructure fights alone represent the carbon equivalent of 12% of annual U.S. and Canadian pollution, or 779 million metric tons CO2e. Ongoing struggles equal 12% 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%) of annual total U.S. and Canadian emissions.

"That 24%, equaling 1.587 billion metric tons CO2e," the report notes, "is the equivalent pollution of approximately 400 new coal-fired power plants—more than are still operating in the United States and Canada—or roughly 345 million passenger vehicles—more than all vehicles on the road in these countries."

The groups not only highlight how Indigenous resistance to polluters' projects has limited greenhouse gas emissions but also explain and emphasize the importance of tribal and Indigenous sovereignty, self-determination, and free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC).

As IEN Keep It in the Ground organizer Dallas Goldtooth put it: "The numbers don't lie."

"Indigenous peoples have long led the fight to protect Mother Earth," he said Wednesday, "and the only way forward is to center Indigenous knowledge and keep fossil fuels in the ground."

The new report says at the outset that it "seeks to uplift the work of countless tribal nations, Indigenous water protectors, land defenders, pipeline fighters, and many other grassroots formations who have dedicated their lives to defending the sacredness of Mother Earth and protecting their inherent rights of Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination."

The report also draws attention to the criminalization of Indigenous land and water defenders, stating that "the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline is a notable example of these threats—what happened in Standing Rock should not be seen as an anomalous incident, but rather a disturbing commonality across Indigenous resistance efforts worldwide."

DAPL, as the oil pipeline is known, is among several projects included in the report. Other fights include fossil fuel development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, fracked gas pipelines like Coastal GasLink and Mountain Valley, and tar sands projects like Trans Mountain and Line 3—which opponents are calling on President Joe Biden to block like he did the Keystone XL Pipeline shortly after taking office in January.

"Respecting and honoring the wisdom and sovereignty of Indigenous peoples is a key solution to the climate crisis."
—Collin Rees, OCI

"This report is predicated on a simple fact: The world is delving deeper into climate chaos, and we must change course," according to IEN and OCI. "In parallel to the severe threats Mother Earth is facing from climate change, the rights, well-being, and survival of Indigenous peoples throughout the world are at grave risk due to the same extractive industries driving the climate crisis."

"The United States and Canada must recognize their duty to consult and obtain consent from Indigenous peoples for all projects proposed on Indigenous lands," the report says. "In parallel, these settler nation-state governments must recognize that the fossil fuel era is rapidly coming to a close."

Echoing scientists' and energy industry experts' increasingly urgent warnings, the report recognizes the "monumental challenge" of phasing out existing fossil fuel infrastructure and declares that "our climate cannot afford new oil, gas, or coal projects of any kind."

OCI U.S. campaign manager Collin Rees said Wednesday that "Indigenous communities resisting oil, gas, and coal projects across their territory are demonstrating true climate leadership."

"Brave resistance efforts by Indigenous land and water defenders have kept billions of tons of carbon in the ground," he added, "showing that respecting and honoring the wisdom and sovereignty of Indigenous peoples is a key solution to the climate crisis."


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