Tamra Gilbertson, a lecturer in the UT Department of Sociology, took part in the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNCCC) in Glasgow, Scotland, as the climate change and forest policy advisor for the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), which was part of the It Takes Roots alliance – a delegation to the conference that included more than 60 Indigenous and frontline community delegates.
“The impact of climate change, social and economic justice are interwoven,” Gilbertson said. “They really cannot be pulled apart because of the historical impact of economic development policies that drive global inequalities. At the Conference of Parties 26 in Glasgow there has been an increased failure to include the voices of those most impacted by climate change.”
Gilbertson first met the director of IEN in South Africa during a strategy meeting in 2004 when she was the co-director of a small research organization called Carbon Trade Watch. IEN, with three other networks, formed the It Takes Roots (ITR) alliance a decade ago as an umbrella alliance of four sister organizations that include the Indigenous Environmental Network, Climate Justice Alliance, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, and Rights to the City. For the 2021 Conference of Parties, the Just Transition Alliance joined the ITR delegation.
As part of the delegation, Gilbertson followed the negotiations and feedback to the delegates both inside and outside of the Conference of Parties. She and fellow delegates participated in the COP26 Coalition Peoples’ Summit, organized panels, and participated in the climate march November 6 with more than 100,000 people.
“I traveled and stayed with Indigenous elders and knowledge holders, so I spent a lot of time supporting their work as well,” Gilbertson said. “It was a great privilege to work so closely with them over the 17 days in Glasgow.”
When Gilbertson returns to Knoxville, she plans to develop teaching tools on climate change policy with IEN in hopes of engaging students with real world examples of climate and environmental policy, movements, and analysis.
“In the United States, we have a very serious lack of climate change education,” Gilbertson said. “I am working with a wide coalition of organizations, movements, and the New School in New York City to bring together an education platform on the false solutions to climate change.”
Gilbertson’s experience conducting global research on climate change mitigation policies that have adverse impacts on Indigenous peoples in the global South informs her work. While a doctoral student at UT, She received a Fulbright to investigate coal mining in Colombia to address the complex sociopolitical landscape of how large-scale resource extraction exemplifies socioeconomic and environmental conflicts at various scales and supported a chapter of her dissertation with some of her previous work on climate change policy.
While the negotiations in Glasgow did not result in an agreement to stave off the global temperature rise due to climate change, Gilbertson is not giving up on the global South.
“The governments of the global North will claim Glasgow a victory for completing the Paris Rulebook, especially Article 6, but many countries in the global South, Indigenous Peoples and many other organizations are very critical of the outcome,” Gilbertson said. “The economic loopholes embedded in the text, specifically in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, will likely lock us in to more fossil fuel extraction and carbon offsetting that does nothing to keep fossil fuels in the ground.”
In 2022, Gilbertson will continue her work with the Indigenous Environmental Network through education and policy work to support racial, gender, and social justice in the face of the climate emergency.