Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change: A Human Rights Issue

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report published in early 2007 confirmed that global climate change is already taking place and having an impact on many communities around the world. The report found that communities who live in marginal lands and whose livelihoods are highly dependent on natural resources are among the most vulnerable to climate change.

Many indigenous and traditional peoples who have been pushed to the least fertile and most fragile lands as a consequence of historical, social, political and economic exclusion are among those who are at greatest risk. On the other hand, people living in marginal lands have long been exposed to many kinds of environmental changes and have developed strategies for coping with these phenomena. They have valuable knowledge about adapting to climate change, but the magnitude of future hazards may exceed their adaptive capacity, especially given their current conditions of marginalization. The potential impacts of climate change on the livelihoods and cultures of indigenous and traditional communities remain poorly known. As such, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has conducted a report examining how climate change may continue to impact indigenous peoples in the near future.

The goals of the IUCN report on Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change were:

* to improve understanding of the potential impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities and cultures and their associated ecosystems;
* to identify further research required to reduce the risks of climate change; and
* to develop appropriate adaptation and mitigation measures, particularly in areas with high risk of socio-cultural impacts.

Published in March of 2008, the report offers some elements that will facilitate integration of socio-cultural considerations in programs and actions to address climate change impacts.

A central point of the report is that indigenous and traditional peoples are going to be particularly burdened by the costs of climate change impacts, and that there is evidence that the dangers of climate change are already threatening traditional cultures (previously discussed in terms of anthropology, indigenous peoples, and climate change; and biofuel, indigenous peoples, and West Papua). The report documents that the degree of vulnerability varies from one group to another and can be unevenly distributed across and within communities. Women are expected to be particularly affected by the effects of global warming as a result of their disproportionate involvement in reproductive work, their frequently insecure property rights and access to resources, as well as of their reduced mobility due to caring for children and the elderly in situations of stress.

Broken down by ecological region, the report covers case studies in:

* Oceans, Coastal Areas, Islands and Climate Change;
* The Tropical Forest Belt and Climate Change;
* Drylands, Climate Change, and Indigenous and Local Communities; and
* Watersheds and Climate Change.

The report also reveals that there is already a long record of adaptations to climate variability practiced by indigenous peoples which may ultimately enhance their resilience. Examples of such traditional and innovative adaptation practices include: shoreline reinforcement, improved building technologies, increased water quality testing, rainwater harvesting, supplementary irrigation, traditional farming techniques to protect watersheds, changing hunting and gathering periods and habits, crop and livelihood diversification, use of new materials, seasonal climate forecasting, community-based disaster risk reduction and so on. The capacity to adapt to climate change can be asymmetrically distributed within a community (depending on age, social status or sex) and may change over time. Adaptive capacity depends on a range of factors, some of which coincide with the determining factors of vulnerability. The determinants of adaptive capacity include: social capital, social networks, values, perceptions, customs, traditions, and levels of cognition. Additionally, the capacity to adapt is also affected by external factors including violent conflicts or the spread of infectious diseases (IPCC, 2007b). However, even if the capacity to adapt is given within a society, successful adaptation may not occur. Research has shown that in some cases societies are reluctant to adapt even though they would actually possess the capability to adapt. There are significant issues which hinder adaptation including poverty, policies, lack of resources, financial or technological limits. In the case of indigenous and traditional peoples, social and cultural barriers, insecurity of rights and loss of traditional knowledge may hold back adaptation (IPCC, 2007b).

All in all, the IUCN report documents that impacts to indigenous peoples as a result of climate change is largely a human rights issue. Human rights include the right to life - a right that climate change is effecting as indigenous and traditional peoples are continually impacted and marginalized. The question is, what can we do as individuals. Well, beyond the basics of recycling, consuming less, and being social active, one can go to the Amnesty International site and get involved in the many pressing human rights issues. Together, we CAN make a difference.


IPCC, 2007a. Climate Change 2007: The Scientific Basis. Working Group I. Contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

IPCC, 2007b. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. The Working Group II Contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

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Hey Harriet said...

That was such a well written and interesting read. Thanks so much for sharing & highlighting those issues.

Peter N. Jones said...

Glad you liked it. This post was part of the Bloggers Unite for Human Rights initiative sponsored by Amnesty International. Glad to see others participating in this important goal.

All the best - together we can make a difference.

Neil Cowley said...

I'm glad to unite for the cause with you.

Cat said...

Hope you don't mind me linking to you!

Peter N. Jones said...

It's great to see so many people are working on the Bloggers Unite for Human Rights campaign sponsored by Amnesty International. Together we can all contribute to make an impact.

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