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For decades, international development organizations have been talking about the race to zero or the elimination of poverty in various parts of the world. In recent years, there has been a growing recognition that Indigenous Peoples are key players in this race and, as such, need to be partners in planning and implementing strategies to achieve zero poverty by 2030. But does it make sense to characterize Indigenous Peoples as integral to the effort? Is their involvement necessary at all? And what specific steps can be taken right now to engage Indigenous communities? There are no simple answers and easy solutions, but the conversation is productive and it encourages others to join in the conversation.

The Race to Zero

We’re rapidly approaching a critical point in history where global emissions of carbon dioxide will peak, and then fall. The race between nations to be first to zero—or near-zero—emissions is well underway. Even though most developing countries are lagging behind on commitments made at international climate talks like those in Paris last year, they have pledged not only mitigation efforts but also an electrification process of huge scale. Developing countries want cities powered by zero or near-zero emissions energy systems.

The Indigenous Advantage

The communities living closest to nature are proving that there is another way forward, both environmentally and economically. Yet they’re racing against time, as their way of life is on a collision course with extractive industrial development. Could investing in these communities help save not only our forests but also our climate—and maybe even our planet as we know it? Indigenous peoples, communities, organizations, and governments must take the initiative to address the energy transition in Indigenous contexts. However, governments frequently overlook, disregard, and even harm indigenous knowledge holders when formulating national policies.

Indigenous communities all around the world are swiftly emerging as significant pioneers in the field of renewable energy. In terms of Indigenous rights, sovereignty, and self-determination, it’s crucial to understand who created the initiative, how it changed over time, how much Indigenous knowledge and expertise are reflected in the eligibility requirements, and how the jury that will decide on the applications was chosen.

Where Are We Now?

Solar technology’s rapid price declines are fueling expectations that solar will win what industry insiders call the race to zero, making solar affordable everywhere. A study from IRENA says indigenous communities could beat solar and other renewable energy sources there first. Their homes, built with sustainable materials and located in some of earth’s sunniest regions, might have more space on their rooftops for clean energy than anyone else. Learn how a Maasai village is leapfrogging ahead in the renewable energy revolution taking place here.

How Can You Help?

Western nations like Canada and Germany are hoping that the clean energy revolution will be led by countries in Latin America and Africa, where two-thirds of potential capacity for wind and solar power development is found. For instance, members of both German political parties — former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its sister party, Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU) — have promised to end coal-fired power generation by 2038. It will be interesting to see how the Russina-Ukraine War will influence this shift given the current conversations happening with the Bundestag and Bundesrat.

Our Future is Only Possible Together

Transitioning into a post-fossil fuel economy may seem daunting, but it’s also our best chance at preserving an inhabitable planet for future generations. As countries around the world prepare to ratify and implement their individual Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), indigenous communities are rising up to lead both solutions within their lands and on a global scale.


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