Climate Change and Indigenous Governance

CMARI Reservation, the location of the pilot project of RIA in Colombia. Photo by Rodrigo Durán Bahamón

CMARI Reservation, the location of the pilot project of RIA in Colombia. Photo by Rodrigo Durán Bahamón

COP23 commenced its series of Thematic Days with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which included a series of side events on the protection of traditional indigenous knowledge and how this knowledge is being used in climate change action. Indigenous people are directly connected with the land and therefore feel the effects of climate change on the ground very acutely, although they are not typically involved in the climate change policymaking process. As indigenous communities are uprooted and impacted by climate change, these cultures and their traditional knowledge are threatened.

Loss of cultural heritage and indigenous knowledge has been classified as a noneconomic form of Loss and Damage (L&D). L&D is broadly defined as the unavoidable and irreversible effects of climate change and encompasses both extreme weather and slow onset events. Examples of slow onset events include sea level rise, desertification, ocean acidification, and loss of ecosystem services. L&D is also categorized by economic losses – such as loss of property, infrastructure, and agricultural production – and noneconomic losses. Some noneconomic losses are loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, human displacement, and the loss of heritage, culture, and indigenous knowledge. However, far from being entirely about loss, Indigenous Peoples’ Day highlighted the protection of traditional knowledge currently undertaken by indigenous communities around the world.  

The side event “Traditional Knowledge, Paris Agreement and Indigenous Territorial Organizations” featured Coordinadora de las Organizaciones Indígenas de la Cuenca Amazónica (COICA), an indigenous organization that works for the protection and security of indigenous territories within the Amazon Basin. Indigenous peoples have revered and relied on the Amazon for hundreds of years. Research through Rede Amazônica de Informação Socioambiental Georreferenciada (RAISG) found that indigenous territories only contribute to 8% of all deforestation in the Amazon, and 90% of deforestation takes place in unprotected areas in the remaining 48% of land. Initiatives, like REDD+ Indigenous Amazonian (RIA), promote shared management between indigenous peoples and governments where indigenous land protection knowledge is implemented utilizing government capacity.

The side event “Protecting and promoting indigenous territories and knowledge” highlighted indigenous practices in Africa that are working on climate change adaptation. Here, too, speakers highlighted that good governance must be based on the integration of local indigenous values and management systems with resources from the state. A speaker from the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC) highlighted several examples of traditional knowledge for adaptation. One example is a traditional grazing practice in Morocco called Agdal, which seeks to create a balance of biodiversity by closing off areas to grazing during certain times of year.

A request that IPACC had for COP23 was the creation of a list of indigenous practices on climate change action. The hope is that this list would be shared internationally and eventually included in school books so the knowledge could be passed on through generations. RIA and other governance initiatives also serve as a model for governments and indigenous communities around the world. These efforts, from just two parts of the world, highlight the incredible emerging role for indigenous involvement in climate change governance.