Climate change and indigenous peoples

For indigenous peoples, climate change is not only an environmental issue but also a human rights issue and a question of cultural survival.

Read about the United Nations' Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and about indigenous peoples' advocacy in relation to this process here  (internal link)

Indigenous peoples are especially vulnerable to climate change

Regional and global assessments confirm that the Earth's climate is changing. Current and projected levels of exposure to climate-related sensitivities, as well as limits and restrictions to adaptive capacity, mean that some environments and peoples are more exposed to climate change and are significantly more vulnerable to its impacts and long-term consequences than others.

Indigenous peoples depend on natural resources for their livelihood and they often inhabit fragile ecosystems. At the same time, indigenous peoples are among the world's most marginalized, impoverished and vulnerable peoples.

Hence, while indigenous peoples bear the brunt of climate change, they have minimal access to resources to cope with the changes.

Climate change is a human rights issue

When ecosystems change, indigenous peoples' customary uses of wildlife, plants and forests are affected. Culturally and economically important species and resources may become more sparse or extinct. 

To indigenous peoples, climate change is, however, not simply a matter of physical changes to the environments in which they live. Many consider climate change a threat to their livelihoods and they fear that their economy and resource use will be threatened, followed by an erosion of social life, traditional knowledge and cultures. Hence, to indigenous peoples climate change is not only an environmental issue but also a human rights issue.

Despite the impact of climate change on indigenous peoples and their traditional knowledge, international experts most often overlook the rights of indigenous peoples as well as the potentially invaluable contributions that indigenous peoples' traditional knowledge, innovations and practices can bring to the global search for climate change solutions.

As the global discourse on climate change focuses on understanding how we can scientifically and technologically adapt to, as well as mitigate climate change, indigenous peoples are faced with the prospect of climate change further challenging their abilities to adapt to and cope with environmental and social changes.

Climate change mitigation initiatives

Indigenous peoples can play a key role in mitigation of climate change. As guardians of large areas of forest, indigenous peoples can have a central role in stopping deforestation. Land titling in favor of indigenous peoples, strengthening of local governance structures and sustainable community forestry are proven tools to quickly halt deforestation. By managing their ancestral land, indigenous peoples help increase forest cover and biodiversity. 

On the other hand, it must be acknowledged that in many cases, reforestation and renewable energy projects aiming at reducing greenhouse gas emissions pose an additional threat to indigenous peoples' tenure security, livelihoods and economies. The establishment of bio-fuel plantations, wind power project and hydroelectric dams on indigenous peoples' lands without their free, prior and informed content often lead to evictions and dispossession. Adding to the negative impacts of climate change itself on indigenous communities. 

It it thus crucial that mitigation initiatives make room for the inclusion and participation of indigenous peoples. That they respect indigenous peoples' rights and take into consideration their traditional knowledge.

Indigenous peoples are actively engaging in national and international processes on climate change and mitigation policies, including the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and national REDD+ programmes. 

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