Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change in International Processes

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Home » Thematic Areas » TK & Climate Change » Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change in International Processes

Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change in International Processes

The following text describes how several international processes have acknowledged the need for further awareness and understanding of the relationship between indigenous peoples and climate change, including:

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Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

Encouraged by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment process and findings and the unprecedented attention given by the international community to climate change, a number of indigenous peoples’ organizations have sought to adapt and implement the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment conceptual framework and carry out local assessments. The Vilcanota local assessment being carried out in Peru by Asociacion Andes and the Sustaining Local Foods Systems, Agrobiodiversity and Livelihoods Program of IIED, was identified as model for future local assessments. Consequently ANDES was asked by interested indigenous organizations to foster partnerships with research institutions and donor agencies to support local indigenous assessments and disseminate their results.

At the recent Millennium Ecosystem Assessment meeting in Kuala Lumpur where it was agreed to re-establish the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the Vilcanota indigenous assessment was reinserted in the sub-global assessment (SGA) network. During this meeting a representative of ANDES-IIED discussed issues related to indigenous peoples with Director of the United Nations University’s Institute of Advanced Studies, current Secretariat of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and explored the feasibility of dedicating a number of indigenous assessments to the specific issue of climate change and local food systems.

UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

UNU-IAS, the Secretariat of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and NAILSMA, convened the International Expert Group Meeting on Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change, in Darwin, Australia in April 2008.  The meeting was an official preparatory meeting of the UNPFII.  The meeting addressed the effects of climate change on indigenous peoples, mitigations and adaptation measures, carbon markets and factors effecting indigenous participation in the climate change processes.  The experts called for the full and effective participation of indigenous people in: the development of policies and other strategies to address mitigation and adaptation measures, in particular the processes leading up to the 15th meeting of the UNFCCC COP in 2009; and research and information about climate change particular the social and economic impacts of climate change.

The meeting specifically invited the Permanent Forum to engage UNU-IAS and other relevant agencies and institutions in collaboration with indigenous peoples and their communities to undertake case studies to assess the impact of climate change and climate change response activities on indigenous peoples and their communities.  It also urged the IPCC to undertake a specific assessment of the opportunities and threats for indigenous peoples arising from the various greenhouse gas emissions strategies that are currently and will potentially come into operation to mitigate the impacts of climate change and that this assessment be undertaken with the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples across the world.

As noted in the introduction, the Seventh Session of the Permanent Forum (UNPFII) held from 21 April to 2 May 2008 adopted the recommendation that the 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."


Also during the seventh session of the UNPFII, the “Climate change, bio-cultural diversity and livelihoods: the stewardship role of indigenous peoples and new challenges” - a consortium of indigenous peoples interested in carrying out local indigenous assessment - was formalized. 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 immediate objectives of the consortium will focus on the actual design and implementation of the substantive activities of the Assessment.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) delivered its Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) in November 2007.  This had limited recognition of the role of traditional knowledge and indigenous people in climate change.  Working Group II, in its cross-chapter case studies did however, observe that "recent studies have emerged that explore how indigenous knowledge can become part of a shared learning effort to address climate-change impacts, mitigation and adaptation, and links with sustainability".  The most recent meeting of the IPCC was held in April 2008 in Budapest, Hungary.  It was the first meeting of the IPCC since its release of the AR4.  At this meeting the IPCC agreed to prepare a Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) and to retain the current structure of its Working Groups. The IPCC agreed to mandate Working Group I to report by early 2013 and complete the other Working Group reports and the Synthesis Report at the earliest feasible date in 2014.  The increasing need to assess impacts, vulnerability and adaptation options on a regional/local scale was recognised by the meeting as an important topic to address more effectively in AR5.  As a result there is an opportunity to incorporate indigenous views and studies into the IPCC process.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

The international governmental response to climate change centres round the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  The UNFCCC is developed by decisions of the Conference of the Parties.  The last meeting of the COP was in Bali in December 2007.  The main focus and outcome of the Conference was a decision on long-term cooperation and the post-2012 period, when the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period expires.  The outcome of these discussions was a series of decisions that provide mandates and guidance (or "building blocks") for a number of meetings over the next two years under with the aim of concluding a comprehensive framework for the post-2012 period at COP 15 and COP/MOP 5 in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009.  The mandates and building blocks contained in these decisions are collective know as the "Bali roadmap".

The Bali road map’s overall goal is to develop a "shared vision for long-term cooperative action, including a long-term global goal for emission reductions, to achieve the ultimate objective of the Convention, in accordance with the provisions and principles of the Convention, in particular the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, and taking into account social and economic conditions and other relevant factors".

The COP decided that the negotiation process shall address four main building blocks in order to achieve this goal, namely:

  1. "enhanced national/international action on mitigation";
  2. enhanced action on adaptation;
  3. technology development and transfer; and
  4. provision of financial resources and investment.

The Bali road map contains detailed lists of issues to be considered under each of these topics.  There is no specific reference to indigenous people or traditional knowledge in these issues.  The issues do, however, refer to the economic and social consequences of response measures.  They also include a reference to the need to strengthen the “role civil society…. as a means to support mitigation in a coherent and integrated manner”.  They also refer to “International cooperation to support urgent implementation of adaptation actions, including through vulnerability assessments, prioritization of actions, financial needs assessments, capacity-building and response strategies, integration of adaptation actions into sectoral and national planning, specific projects and programmes, means to incentivize the implementation of adaptation actions, and other ways to enable climate-resilient development and reduce vulnerability of all Parties”.

Importantly, the President of COP 15 Denmark has had a strong commitment to ensuring full and effective participation of indigenous people and civil society generally in UN processes.

Accordingly, there are opportunities within the UNFCCC and IPCC processes for indigenous views about climate change to be incorporated in the development of policy and the post Kyoto commitments.

Indigenous Peoples Global Summit on Climate Change

To be effectively involved in the climate change processes indigenous people will need to mobilise political support for their participation in the climate change processes and develop clear views supported as much as possible by politically relevant and acceptable information.

An important step in developing these views will be the outcomes of the seventh session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, which as mentioned before is most likely to adopt a series of recommendations supporting the call for indigenous assessments of climate change.

Another import step in developing the view of indigenous peoples and developing the informational basis is the Indigenous Peoples Global Summit on Climate Change proposed for early 2008.  This Summit aims to:

  • Enable indigenous peoples to articulate and share their observations, concerns and views on the impacts and effects of climate warming, and strengthen and inject their voices into continuing national and international debate.  Consolidate and draw lessons from the views and experience of Indigenous Peoples around the world on the impacts and effects of climate change on their ways of life and their natural environment, including responses;
  • Raise the visibility, participation and role of Indigenous Peoples in local, national, regional and international processes in formulating strategies and partnerships that engage local communities and other stakeholders to respond to the impacts of climate change;
  • Analyze, discuss and promote public awareness of the impacts and consequences of programs and proposals for climate change mitigation and adaptation, and assess proposed "solutions" to climate change from the perspective of Indigenous Peoples; and
  • Advocate effective strategies and solutions in response to climate change from the perspective of the cultures, world views, and traditional knowledge of Indigenous Peoples, including local, national, regional and international rights-based approaches.

Successfully achieving these aims will depend on generating credible indigenous assessments of the effects of climate change that outline the realities faced by indigenous peoples.  It will also require identifying global commonalities among indigenous peoples on climate change related challenges.

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