Emilio Sempris |Act of Installation in the Science Session, CUMIPAZ 2017
Thank you very much. Good morning, your Excellency Feliciano Jiménez, Vice Minister of Indigenous Affairs of Panama; honorable Mr. Leo Heileman, director for Latin America and the Caribbean of UN Environment; honorable Mrs. Mariam Wallet, president of the 16th UN Permanent Forum of Indigenous Peoples; honorable Mrs. Gabriela Lara, general director of the Global Embassy of Activists for Peace; national government authorities, distinguished panelists, participants of this forum. Welcome to Panama.
This forum being a non-traditional forum - from the point of view of addressing one of the most important aspirational goals of our planet, which is peace -, I believe that my words should focus on five issues and how they relate to the environment.
First: our woodland resources, our forests. Five years after the Rio Summit, our planet has about 2.5 billion inhabitants who depend on their good relationship with forests on a daily basis; and it is no secret that a tiny number of them are those that affect a large part of the healthy relationship of our indigenous peoples, of our rural communities with these resources.
Along this line, a significant number of conflicts have been developed; some have been around for almost half a century (at least in Panama), others are conflicts of perception about the management of our resources. And the perception of these conflicts comes internally from the authorities to the indigenous peoples; and have resulted, for example, in situations of serious deforestation in areas of great importance for the biodiversity of our planet, or the poor use of resources, such as water resources, where, in the absence of public infrastructure works to supply basic services, generate conflicts for the use of this resource by other sectors; and that in some cases, catastrophic events (mostly anthropic) have been triggered, which have affected the healthy coexistence in communities.
The third point is climate change, of course; but here, the good news is that since the creation of the United Nations system, the Framework Convention on Climate Change is the only multilateral agreement on the planet that has five reports endorsed by the scientific community. This significantly reduces the uncertainties in the perception of the problem and, of course, in the actions that all countries must take.
And unfortunately the 2015-2016 period, which was characterized at least in Latin America by the great phenomenon of El Niño, and now this year with the significant number of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, makes us rethink the development model; and I quickly think of our Caribbean brothers, particularly the small islands, the small island states and, of course, our Spanish-speaking brothers: Cuba, that with a meteorological event like Irma lost all its energy infrastructure, which generated an important vulnerability in one of its vital systems. And some economists have already released some numbers that the impact in Cuba, in the energy sector, can reach up to 6,000 million dollars.
And the reality is that no developing country is prepared for the adverse effects of climate change, and there are some who argue that the developed countries are ready, and my position as a technician is that they are not prepared either. If they had been prepared we would not have had events like Katrina, with the impacts that our brothers from the north of the continent had.
So the question should not be based on whether we are prepared or not, whether we have the resources or not; and it brings us to the fourth point: we are convinced that the body of international agreements on environmental matters is enough to take important steps towards integrating environmental issues into the development model of our countries.
Since the 70’s, our planet has achieved a little more than 85 multilateral environmental agreements that go, of course, from climate change, the protection of the ozone layer, to the management of chemical compounds in some industries.
This process of dialogue has very gradually incorporated the vision of the indigenous peoples, our regions, the rural areas of our countries. However, there is a lot of work to be done. There is a lot of work to do, and it is related primarily to the understanding of traditional knowledge and then incorporating it effectively into the negotiation processes of these multilateral environmental agreements.
And that understanding and eventual integration can only be achieved in one way. And here I remember very clearly three years ago (when we took office), we asked the president of our country: "President, in the environmental issue we have a pending task. We still have to create the Ministry of Environment (which did not exist, and other environmental problems in our 75,000 km2). And well, we want to know, president, what are the tools that you are going to put at our disposal". And traditional knowledge makes us immediately think of that tool that something that solves everything, which are the resources.
The president said: "No. We are going to give the Ministry of Environment and all the ministries of our country the most important tool to advance in the process of peaceful development of our country; that tool is dialogue."
Very quickly the president instructed us to develop an important number of dialogue roundtables related to indigenous issues, the environment, forests, the theme of forests, deforestation, water, energy. And after three years of government, I am pleased to report that nowadays our country already has a Ministry of the Environment. It incorporated all the legislation that had been repealed by previous governments on the role of indigenous peoples and the environment, through the new law: Law 8 (and I invite you to read it), Law 8, which modifies the General Law 41 of the Environment and which obliges all designers to coordinate closely with the indigenous peoples and achieve that necessary, free and informed consensus for the development of our peoples.
But we also have the National Water Security Plan 2015-2050, the 2015-2050 Energy Plan. Perhaps Minister Jiménez will talk a little about some of the conflicts with the hydroelectric issue, which we have also made important advances.
In short, we believe that this event is perhaps our graduation in the discussion about the role of indigenous peoples in the development of our countries and how we better listen to them. And here very clearly (and perhaps as a measure of complaint or protest) ... those five reports that I mentioned to you, from the intergovernmental climate change panel, the five have a small problem, and that is that they only reflect the traditional scientific knowledge that is linked to the publications in these major international journals; but knowledge ... In fact, knowledge of other languages, such as Spanish, there is still ground to travel; let alone know about the traditional themes of our indigenous peoples.
So there is still a lot of work ahead of us, however, we are happy with the progress. And, finally, peace is not bipolar, peace is not binary: peace is multidimensional, multicultural, biodiverse. And we believe that within the framework of this Forum, of this Summit, our people will come much closer to achieve those necessary exchanges and send that clear message to the entire planet about the role of indigenous peoples in the management of our natural resources and in the peace processes.
Thank you very much.