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Indigenous Protests Blocked 1.6 Billion Tonnes of Emissions Per Year

September 2, 2021: Blockades, lobbying, media campaigns, and other forms of advocacy grounded in Indigenous rights have stopped or delayed nearly 1.6 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year, or nearly 25% of the combined emissions of the United States and Canada, the Indigenous Environmental Network and Oil Change International concluded in a blockbuster report.

“From the struggle against the Cherry Point coal export terminal in Lummi territory to fights against pipelines crossing critical waterways, Indigenous land defenders have exercised their rights and responsibilities to not only stop fossil fuel projects in their tracks, but establish precedents to build successful social justice movements,” the IEN writes in a newsletter to supporters.

“Given the current climate crisis, Indigenous peoples are demonstrating that the assertion of Indigenous rights not only upholds a higher moral standard, but provides a crucial path to confronting climate change head-on and reducing emissions.”

The analysis, based on 26 major fossil fuel projects in the territory currently known as North America, is meant 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 two organizations write in the introduction to the report. “In this effort, Indigenous Peoples have developed highly effective campaigns that utilize a blended mix of non-violent direct action, political lobbying, multimedia, divestment, and other tactics to accomplish victories in the fight against neoliberal projects that seek to destroy our world via extraction.”

The report lays out a framework based on Indigenous rights and responsibilities and Free, Prior and Informed Consent and includes capsule profiles of major projects that have been met with opposition from Indigenous communities and their non-Indigenous allies, from the extended campaign against the Dakota Access Pipeline and the successful fight for an oil and gas moratorium in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to the Teck Frontier mine and the Coastal GasLink pipeline in Canada.

“An Indigenous Rights and Responsibilities framework links the struggle to protect the land with the ever-present struggle to resist settler nation-state acts of violence and colonization fueled by an extractive economic system,” the report states.

The carbon reductions resulting from Indigenous action were calculated based on the “reported climate impacts” of specific pipelines, tar sands/oil sands mines, and fossil activity in the Arctic Refuge, with most of the assessments carried out by Oil Change, the report says. The total emissions reduction clocked in at 1.587 billion tonnes, equivalent to about 400 new coal-fired power plants.

Limiting the review to specific projects kept the final numbers on the low side, the two organizations write. “Adding extraction areas such as the Permian Basin, the Canadian tar sands, and the San Juan Basin of Chaco Canyon would significantly increase the size of our estimate, but would also introduce the potential for double-counting pipelines carrying fossil fuels out of these areas, leading to a more speculative assessment contingent on future development.”