Despite being a small group of only eight people among the more than 1,000 participants at the UN Climate Meeting in Abu Dhabi in June, indigenous peoples were able to have their voices heard and put indigenous peoples’ rights on the agenda.
Indigenous peoples across the world face the consequences of climate change. Indigenous peoples must, therefore, be heard and included in global, national and local climate action.
Indigenous peoples are particularly vulnerable to climate change and yet the least responsible. Indigenous peoples have a lifestyle, hold traditional knowledge and are highly motivated to drive solutions to overcome climate changes.
Many of our world’s ecosystems and biodiversity areas are being protected and nurtured by indigenous peoples. The contributions to climate mitigation and traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples are increasingly being acknowledged and referred to in international agreements and declarations.
Indigenous peoples face climate change
Rising temperatures, rising sea levels and unpredictable weather hit indigenous peoples from the Amazon to the highlands of Myanmar dramatically. Indigenous peoples often live in our world’s most biodiversity-rich areas, rely on existing ecosystems and depend on nature. But widespread changes in our climate disrupt indigenous peoples’ way of living and damage their livelihoods.
Many indigenous people are being forced to relocate as their traditional lands become uninhabitable due to climate change.
Indirect consequences of climate action
Extreme weather and rising sea levels pose a direct threat to indigenous peoples’ lives and societies. Some mitigation measures may also have undesirable direct and indirect consequences for indigenous communities.
Renewable energy projects and climate action plans are sometimes developed without including or consulting indigenous peoples. The lands of indigenous peoples are seen as fertile ground for the establishment of biofuel plantations, wind power projects and hydroelectric dams.
The construction of large-scale energy projects often happens without their ‘Free, Prior and Informed Consent’ – the international principle that states that indigenous communities must be informed and heard on issues that affect their lands and lives.
The consequences for indigenous peoples are further marginalisation, dispossession and displacement.
The Paris Agreement and the Global Goals
“Parties should respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on (…) the rights of indigenous peoples.”
In COP21 – the UN Climate change conference that took place in France in 2015 – it was decided to establish a knowledge-sharing platform on climate action for indigenous peoples.
In 2016, UN member states agreed on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with the ambition of “leaving no one behind”. IWGIA sees the international commitments as a window of opportunity for truly including the knowledge, experiences and rights of indigenous peoples in climate action.
Indigenous peoples are some of the most affected by climate change. It is therefore extremely important that The Paris Agreement recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples in its preamble and that indigenous communities are included in relevant processes. This page collects some of the most important facts, publications and videos featuring the connection between climate change and indigenous peoples.
Myanmar has some of the largest remaining forest areas in Asia, but also some of the highest deforestation rates in the world. Increased focus on the role of indigenous peoples’ rights and use of their knowledge through initiatives like REDD+ is essential for saving the forests and reducing CO2 emissions in the Southeast Asian country.
International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (WGIA) and Denmark have long pushed for the adoption of a “GCF Indigenous Peoples Policy” in the Green Climate Fund, that every year allocates billions of dollars to climate projects. Just recently this policy was finally approved. “This is an important step towards recognizing indigenous peoples’ rights in climate actions,” says Senior Advisor Kathrin Wessendorf from IWGIA.