Indigenous Peoples Climate Change Assessment

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Home » Thematic Areas » TK & Climate Change » Indigenous Peoples Climate Change Assessment

Indigenous Peoples Climate Change Assessment

This page describes the development of the Indigenous Peoples Climate Change Assessment, a collaborative initiative to empower indigenous peoples to (i) develop and use indigenous frameworks for assessing the impact of climate change on their communities and ecosystems and (ii) develop and implement strategies for building indigenous resilience and adaptive strategies:

A. Background

B. Structure of Assessments and Development of Regional Nodes

C. Expressions of interest

A. Background

The United Nations Permanent Forum at its Seventh Session of the Permanent Forum held from 21 April to 2 May 2008 recommended 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".

The impacts of climate change on indigenous communities are significant. The cultures that support TK around the world are often living in marginal ecosystems, such as the Arctic, mountains, deserts and small islands. These marginal ecosystems are often the sources of key ecosystem services (e.g., role of mountain ranges in sustaining water balance) and are critical for maintaining the overall resilience and adaptive capacity of social-ecological systems are most vulnerable to climate change and will suffer the greatest change often for the worse as a result of climate change.

Importantly, the TK of indigenous peoples is proving critically valuable service to the global community. Observations of ecosystem change by indigenous peoples are acting as a sentinel like warning system for climate change. More importantly, the 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. For example, the Inuvialuit of Northern Canada have observed delays in the autumn freeze, and changing sea ice distribution. Changes in sea ice distribution in turn alter the habitation patterns of seals. Such ecological observations are informing scientists and form part of the science base of studies such as the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA).

The ACIA, a project of the eight country Arctic Council and the International Arctic Science Committee notes that climate change is foremost a human and cultural issue. The ACIA further notes that the study confirms mainly what Inuit already knew. The ACIA stresses “ the importance of intensifying natural and social science research on impacts and adaptation, including studies to enhance understanding of fundamental processes and sustainability, procedures for integrating indigenous and local knowledge into scientific studies, and partnerships between Indigenous peoples, local communities, and scientists in defining and conducting research and monitoring associated with Arctic climate and ultraviolet radiation changes”. The ACIA also encourages national and international organisations to take into account the science findings of the ACIA in their programmes.

Paradoxically, indigenous peoples who historically have responded to climate pressures—and who know best how to do so—are now the most marginalized voice in the climate debate. Indigenous peoples continue to be culturally, politically, socially and economically marginalized and, as far as climate change is concerned, they are mentioned only as helpless victims of changes beyond their control. In particular, their knowledge systems have not been recognized as critical to the development of measures for adapting to climate change.  Their participation has been limited to discussions about how to link their territories to carbon markets.

While knowledge about the impact of climate change on plant and animal species and ecosystems has grown substantially, knowledge and understanding of the finer scale/community-scale level about climate change's consequences and adaptation/resilience capacity for interdependent social-ecological systems, including local food systems, livelihoods, and cultures, is extremely limited.

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. Indigenous peoples are increasingly aware of climate change as a threat to culture and livelihoods and mobilising to participate in the climate change processes.  Challenges and opportunities face indigenous people in engaging effectively in the climate change processes.


B. Structure of Assessments and Development of Regional Nodes


The present proposal is the result of collaboration between UNU-IAS, ANDES, The Christensen Fund, and IIED’s Sustainable Agriculture, Biodiversity and Livelihoods (SABL) program and an emerging consortium of indigenous peoples interested in carrying out local indigenous assessment undertaken during the seventh session of the UNPFII. This consortium includes recognized indigenous organizations living in critical ecosystems such as mountains, islands, tropical rain forests, deserts, and polar and temperate regions of the globe.

The indigenous peoples climate change assessments will be led and undertaken by indigenous peoples (IPs) and will benefit the communities where they are undertaken, including by helping them face challenges of climate change.


The overall aims of the Assessment will include:

  • Assisting the communities undertaking the assessment;
  • Generating information that can be shared with neighbouring communities or other communities around the world;
  • Influencing policy locally, national and internationally by providing inputs into ongoing climate change negotiating processes that ensure indigenous rights; and
  • Educating and creating awareness among the wider global public in order to reposition issues relating to the value and wisdom of traditional knowledge. 

What is Being Assessed? 

  • Climate change impacts on IPs and their lands, cultures and livelihoods
  • Observations of IPs of climate change and environmental changes
  • Responses/strategies/vision of IPs in the face of this, and what they need to realize these
  • Impacts of climate change measures 

Features of Local Assessments

The project aims to launch at least eight assessments. Possible sites include:


The process will be open to further assessments, with the aim of creating a long-term process that is accessible to communities around the world. The inclusion of sites from under-represented regions is particularly desirable.

The Steering Committee is responsible for selecting each site.  The types of issues it is hoped that the sites will demonstrate include:

  • The vulnerability of the location to climate change;
  • The prevalence of indigenous people, their traditional knowledge and culture;
  • The presence of a local partner indigenous organisation;
  • The ability to demonstrate aspects of the key criteria outlined in the conceptual  framework for the assessments;
  • Geographical distribution, with reference to the seven regions of the UNPFII and the regions of the TCF and other key partners of the project;
  • Strategic political objectives of indigenous communities (such as land rights)
  • Ecological distribution;
  • Biocultural distribution; and
  • Cultural social distribution including varying degrees of integration into local economies, and various lifestyles, such as agrarian and nomadic lifestyles.

Conceptual Framework

It is important that the initiative develops a conceptual framework that gives all assessments a common vision, as well as guides and articulates in a coherent manner the activities undertaken by each one (under different scenarios, scales and times). This conceptual framework should create capacity in the communities to help then to respond to climate change (e.g. to respond to their particular adaptation needs)

This framework will integrate the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples with indigenous epistemologies/world views, climate change and ecosystems questions, and specific climate change questions related to each assessment. 

The conceptual framework needs to be further developed by a small indigenous experts meeting.

The specific methodology used for each assessment will be culturally defined by each locality.

Though the conceptual framework will influence the methodologies chosen for the pilot assessment, each assessment will be undertaken in the context of the community’s own knowledge and practises. While a set of key questions will be developed to guide the assessments, the community will decide on the specific questions they address according to their needs and ecosystems.

Each assessment will consider how communities are dealing with and preparing for climatic changes, and how climatic changes are already impacting, or are likely in the future to impact, TK systems and sustainable livelihoods.

Understanding that the local conditions and priorities will be the most important issues to be addressed, the following questions might be considered as a starting point for discussion:-

  • What is the meaning of climate change for the community?
  • How does climate change affect their socio-economic, ecological and astronomical calendars now and in the future?
  • What changes in climate and environment have been observed by the community?
  • What are the local explanations and meanings for observed change?
  • What traditional indicators are used by the community to forecast changes?
  • What traditional response/adaptation measures have historically been used by the community in the face of environmental change?
  • To what stresses and combinations of stresses is the community most vulnerable?
  • What are the likely impacts of climate change on local ecological and cultural values?
  • To what degree can traditional adaptation measures build resilience to these stresses?
  • What are coping mechanism are being employed?
  • What needs to be done?

To guide the local assessments, the following issues have been identified as being important:-

  • Opportunities to retain or revive traditional practices to respond to climate change;
  • Promotion of more sustainable communities through innovative climate change responses, such as development of alternative sustainable energy including small scale hydro, solar and wind or small scale (undercover) agriculture in the sub-Arctic;
  • Increased recognition of the importance of healthy ecosystems for indigenous retention and control of indigenous territories;
  • Opportunities to preserve ecosystem diversity on traditional territories as recognition of mitigation values and promotion of adaptation through healthy and resilient ecosystems;
  • Increased opportunities for partnerships and participation in science; and
  • Biodiversity enhancement and recognition of cultural heritage and values.


Three classes of outputs:

  • Materials for the community;
  • Inputs for international governmental processes; and
  • Wider global community.

The outputs may include any or several of the following:

  • Policy Reports
  • Book
  • Stories
  • Films
  • Wiki-platform
  • Guides
  • Guidelines
  • Toolkits

A synthesis report will be prepared by the Steering Committee.  In addition to synthesizing results and findings of the various assessments, the synthesis report will also consider broader international issues such as:

  • How can the international community best support indigenous people regarding the value and importance of their expert knowledge?
  • Cross-scale linkages between state of the art science (climate models, GIS) linked to local interpretation/ground truthing by local/indigenous experts;
  • Will Indigenous peoples be successful in adapting to climate change? At what cost to livelihoods, to the transmission of TK and culture? What steps should/can be taken to address these issues?
  • How does this impact on the TK systems of Indigenous peoples? Will knowledge disappear? Will knowledge adapt? How will changes in TK systems impact the sustainability of livelihoods and communities?
  • How can the interests of Indigenous peoples on the TK related aspects of climate change issues be best represented on the international stage?
  • What are the implications of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples for states and Indigenous peoples in relation to climate change, particularly, with reference to Articles 28 and 29?
  • How can the lessons be applied more broadly? For example, will the responses of Indigenous peoples to climate change demonstrate to the international community the dynamic rather than static nature of TK? Are the lessons applicable to other environmental issues, such as desertification, salinisation or forest loss?
  • How are the Indigenous Peoples response and external responses linked?  Are they mutually supportive?  Are they at cross purposes?

Links with Other Assessments

The project will work with other processes and projects of relevance.  Other relevant projects may also be invited to join.

Global Policy Processes

The assessments will as much as possible seek to contribute to relevant discussions in international process.  Key process in this regard will be:-

Other important events will be:

  • IUCN Congress
  • Climate change congress
  • World Social Forum

The exact nature of these interventions will be determined by the nature of the local assessments.


The Steering Committee is comprised of the following indigenous members which will guide the assessment:

  • Asociación ANDES (Alejandro Argumedo) - Chair
  • Foundation for the Promotion of Indigenous Knowledge (Onel Masardule)
  • Inuit Circumpolar Council (Stephanie Meakin)
  • UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (Vicky Tauli-Corpuz)
  • Snowchange Cooperative (Tero Mustonen)
  • Indigenous Peoples Restoration Network (Dennis Martinez)
  • North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance (Joe Morrison)
  • Aotearoa/ New Zealand (Aroha Te Pareake Mead)
  • Kenya (Joseph Ole Simel)

The Interim Steering Committee meet on 8 October in Barcelona, Spain during the IUCN Congress.

ANDES, supported by other partners, will provide administrative support for each assessment and the international process.

Communication Strategy

A communications strategy will be developed and implemented at the international, regional and local level. The strategy will aim to reach policy-makers, communities and the general public.


C. Expressions of Interest

Potential partners, indigenous organisations interested in joining the consortium and donors are encouraged to contact the IPCCA Secretariat with an expression of interest in participating in this exciting project. Further information is also available on the IPCCA website.

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