Climate Change Activities

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Home » Thematic Areas » TK & Climate Change » Climate Change Activities

Climate Change Activities


Under this thematic programme, the TKI explores key areas relating to traditional knowledge (TK), indigenous peoples and climate change. Our particular research focus is on the impacts of climate change on indigenous peoples, contributions TK can make to addressing climate change, and ways to promote participation in international processes.

In recent years, indigenous peoples have been recognized as powerful knowledge holders on climate change and key actors for developing policy to mitigate and cope with its effects. Observations of ecosystem change by indigenous peoples are acting as a sentinel like warning system for climate change. Long-term place-based adaptation approaches developed by indigenous peoples provide valuable examples for the global community of low-carbon sustainable lifestyle, critical to developing local adaptations strategies in the face of climate instability. The growing importance of TK in the international climate change agenda has been reflected in other UN processes such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

International Savanna Fire Management Initiative

The United Nations University's Traditional Knowledge Initiative is working with the Australian Government and the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance to explore the transferability to developing countries of Australia's savanna fire management abatement methodology and project experience.

Indigenous peoples have historically employed customary burning practise to manage the savanna regions of tropical northern Australia. In many cases these practices have ceased, resulting in hot and uncontrolled wild fires late in the annual dry season. Experience in northern Australia shows that strategic reintroduction of traditional patchwork burning early in the dry season can limit the scale and intensity of late dry season fires, reducing emissions of the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

Preliminary studies have shown that the conditions necessary to establish projects of this kind are available in regions with similar savanna landscapes and traditional management practices, including sub-Saharan Africa and South America. In the initial stages of this initiative, we will explore the potential to export Australia’s methodology and project experience to interested developing countries. We will also identify potential pilot sites, in-country partners and implementation pathways.


Indigenous Peoples, Marginalized Populations and Climate Change Workshops

A series of international workshops on Indigenous Peoples, Marginalized Populations and Climate Change has been convened by the UNU and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) with the collaboration of a number of other partners. The first workshop focused on Vulnerability, Adaptation and Traditional Knowledge and was convened in Mexico City, Mexico (19-21 July 2011). A second workshop focusing on climate change mitigation was held in Cairns, Australia from 26-28 March 2012.

The aim of the workshops was to identify, compile and analyze relevant indigenous and local observations, knowledge and practices related to understanding climate change impacts, adaptation and mitigation. The workshops will provide a key opportunity to ensure that experience, sources of information and knowledge (scientific, indigenous and local), along with data and literature (scientific and grey), focusing on vulnerable and marginalized regions of the world are made available to the authors of the IPCC 5th Assessment Report and the global community. Information on the second workshop will be provided at a later date.

Climate Change Assessments, Case Studies and Other Research

The Seventh Session of the Permanent Forum (UNPFII) adopted the recommendation that the United Nations University - Institute of Advanced Studies (UNU-IAS) undertake climate change assessments as follows:-

“20. The Permanent Forum recommends that the United Nations University – Institute of Advanced Studies, university research centres and relevant united nations agencies conduct further studies on the impacts of climate change and climate change responses on indigenous peoples who are living in highly fragile ecosystems, such as low-lying coastal areas and small island States; semi-arid and arid lands and dry and sub-humid lands (grasslands); tropical and subtropical forests; and high mountain areas.”

The growing importance of TK in the international climate change agenda has been reflected in the further development of the UNU-IAS TK Initiative work on climate change.

The role and application of traditional knowledge in indigenous livelihoods in Australia

This was a joint project with the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)/Resilience Alliance. The project, amongst other things, explored indigenous seasonal indicators and climate change, the results of which were published as Prober, S. M., M. H. O'Connor, and F. J. Walsh, "Australian Aboriginal peoples’ seasonal knowledge: a potential basis for shared understanding in environmental management", Ecology and Society 16(2): 12. 2011

"Advance Guard" Compendium of Case Studies

This study underscores the importance of indigenous peoples’ experience in the climate change debate by focussing on their twin roles as sentinels by cataloguing actual current impacts (rather than projections and speculations), and as innovators by reviewing the implementation of local adaptation and mitigation measures. This survey makes a useful resource for environmentalists, scholars, indigenous peoples organizations and policy makers.

Indigenous Peoples' Climate Change Assessment Initiative

The Indigenous Peoples Climate Change Assessment (IPCCA) comprises a series of local indigenous assessments of climate change around the world that will feed into various global assessments. Launched in 2008 in conjunction with indigenous peoples’ organizations in Australia and overseas, the Assessment will provide an important tool for indigenous people in the climate change processes at all relevant levels. In particular to: (i) incorporate indigenous knowledge into the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2014; and (ii) provide a basis for effective indigenous participation in the UNFCCC processes.

Previous Events and Meeting Reports

The UNU-IAS TK Initiative has convened a number of meetings looking at the impacts of climate change on indigenous people, the contributions that TK and indigenous peoples can make to addressing climate change, and ways to promote indigenous peoples’ participation in climate change processes, including:

Publications, Guides and Declarations

TKI publications relevant to climate change include:

Indigenous Perspectives Video Series

The Indigenous Perspectives on Climate Change project includes a series of videos about the effects of climate change on indigenous communities living in various ecosystems around the world.

Forthcoming Activities

A key focus of our work in this area for the next couple of years will be to bring the experiences and knowledge of indigenous peoples into the IPCC and UNFCCC processes.

Our current focus includes:

  • Ongoing work to expand fire abatement and carbon farming across Northern Australia, and to use this experience to develop carbon farming with indigenous people in other parts of the world

See also:

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