Friday, September 19, 2008

Indigenous Peoples and Areas At Risk from Climate Change

Identifying the most vulnerable areas and groups living in these areas to global climate change with reasonable accuracy remains challenging since global as well as regional climate change models still lack detailed resolution to predict the types and magnitudes of changes to be expected at a regional or local level. Especially when it comes to direction of change in precipitation for some regions there is not sufficient knowledge available to make reliable predictions. Nevertheless, even though it is not possible today to isolate specific groups and local places of highest risk it is possible to identify broad regions which are likely to experience certain types of climate change and extreme events (Dow, Kasperson & Bohn, 2007).

The following maps superimpose the location of indigenous and traditional peoples (ethno-linguistic groups) on climate change prediction data from the IPCC (2007)2. The resulting maps show the coincidence of some areas of high concentration of indigenous and traditional peoples and areas of greatest predicted climatic change. Regions where these two conditions occur simultaneously may represent areas of particular interest or vulnerability. The particular interests and needs of indigenous and traditional peoples where change, even change which may be considered beneficial at a national or regional level (for example, increased precipitation in currently arid areas such as the Sahel) may give rise to potentially threatening changes in traditional livelihood systems, settlement patterns, land prices, etc.

Changes in precipitation remain hard to predict and there are still large uncertainties. As precipitation is a function of inherently small scale processes, such as cloud formation, moisture availability and so forth predictions for future precipitation represent an on-going, important challenge for climate modelers (Frame, 2007). However, as the map above indicates, it is possible to locate broad areas which are expected to experience the biggest changes in precipitations (increase or decrease). Based on data from the IPCC (2007), a majority of models indicate an increase in precipitation across the seasons in high latitudes and in some of the monsoon regimes (including South Asian monsoon in June, July, August and Australian monsoon in December, January, February).

In mid latitudes a widespread decrease of summer precipitation has been predicted except for increases in eastern Asia. The models further converge in their predictions of major decreases in precipitation across the subtropics. A particularly pronounced decrease in precipitation has been predicted for the Caribbean and Mediterranean regions. Thus, traditional and indigenous peoples living across the Caribbean and Mediterranean regions, parts of Brazil, southern Chile and Argentina, southern Africa and large parts of Australia are expected to face increasing freshwater stress over the course of this century, putting them at severe risk. Increases in precipitation over 20% have been projected for most high latitudes, as well as in eastern Africa, central Asia and the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Since not only decreases but also increases in precipitation - especially extreme events including droughts or floods - have implications on traditional and indigenous peoples’ livelihoods, groups living in the mentioned ‘risk areas’ will have to adapt their livelihoods to new environmental conditions.

Changes in temperature are easier to project because temperature in contrast to precipitation is a large-scale continuous variable (Frame, 2007). However, a certain degree of uncertainty still persists. Nevertheless, according to the data published by the IPCC (2007), very likely global climate change will cause higher maximum temperatures and more hot days over nearly all land areas. Furthermore there will be higher minimum temperatures and fewer cold and frosty days. The biggest changes in surface temperature are expected to happen in high latitudes as well as in the interior of the continents. That is, throughout the USA and Canada, across Bolivia and Brazil, in the Mediterranean region (especially in the north-western African states), in southern Africa (around the Kalahari Desert), across the Arabian Peninsula, the Tibetan plateau as well as north-west Australia. It is noticeable that many of the regions of greatest change in surface temperature coincide with the regions of greatest decrease in precipitation as shown in Figure 2. Hence, indigenous and traditional groups living in these areas, namely the Caribbean region, the Mediterranean region and the Middle East, southern Africa and great parts of Australia will not only have to cope with increasing water stress but also with rising surface temperatures.

As with precipitation, models predicting sea level change vary and there is currently no consensus on the magnitude of the dynamical processes which are influencing sea level rise. Therefore, it would not be meaningful to pinpoint individual groups which are going to be affected or at risk by sea level rise. However, again it is possible to identify the areas of projected greatest change. Most pronounced change in sea level is projected to take place in the Arctic. Other areas of interest where sea level is expected to rise within a range of 0 -0.2m are situated along the Asian and African coastlines as well as parts of the South and North American Atlantic coastline. Sea level rise is expected to have especially serious impacts along the low lying coastline of the Indian states Gujarat and Kerala, the Bay of Bengal as well as around the Korean peninsula and Japan. Furthermore, island states across the world are expected to be at risk, namely low lying parts of Madagascar, Sri Lanka and the Pacific Island states. Among these, especially small island states, which contain a high proportion of the world’s linguistic and cultural diversity, are at risk.

Even though it is not possible to make accurate projections for future global change in local places or for specific groups with the data currently available, it is nevertheless possible to locate broad regions which are likely to experience certain types of environmental change.

To summarize the findings drawn from the maps above, areas of high risk with regard to changes in precipitation and surface temperature include: the Arctic region, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean region, the very south of Latin America and the Amazon, southern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and large parts of Australia. Concerning sea level rise, areas at greatest risk include island states in general but especially small islands states, the Arctic region as well as low lying Asian coastal areas. If all the maps above were overlaid it could be concluded that ethnolinguistic groups dwelling in the Arctic, in the Caribbean and Mediterranean region, in the Amazon and southern Chile and Argentina, in Southern Africa, on the islands in the Pacific and other island states, along the Asian coastline and across Australia are going to be the ones who will be at greatest risk. However, it should be borne in mind that exposure to extreme events including droughts or floods, is not the only factor which determines the vulnerability of indigenous and traditional peoples. As described in chapter two, social and biophysical vulnerability is influenced by a wide range of factors of which exposure to extreme events, availability of water, location of housing etc. are only a few. Hence, in order to draw a comprehensive and integrated conclusion on the vulnerability of a specific cultural group, a wide range of the social and biophysical variables described in chapter two should be considered.


Dow, K., Kasperson, R.E., Bohn, M. 2007. Exploring the Social Justice Implications of Adaptation and Vulnerability. In: Fairness in Adaptation to Climate Change. Adger, N., Paavola, J., Huq, S., Mace, M.J.(eds.) 2007. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London.

Frame, D. 2007. Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change Models. Environmental Change Institute. University of Oxford.

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.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

September 10 - 16, 2008: Five Key Indigenous Peoples Issues

Five Important Indigenous People's Issues for the Week of September 10 - 16, 2008

The Hope of the Yukpa People Clings to the Bolivarian Constitution

The aboriginal people Yukpa, ancient settlers of the Perij√° Sierra, Zulia state, expect to see realized the property rights over their ancestral lands, as it is established on Article 119 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

That article reads that 'The State will recognize the existence of indigenous peoples and communities, their social, political and economic organization, their cultures, customs and usages, languages and religions, as well as their habitat and natural rights over the lands that they ancestral and traditionally occupy and which are necessary to develop and grant their ways of life.'

And the article adds up that 'It will correspond to the National Executive, with the participation of the indigenous peoples, to delimit and grant the right of collective ownership of their lands, which will be inalienable, imprescriptible, inembargable and nontransferable in accordance with the established in this Constitution and in the law.'

Impelled by hunger and poverty, and in the midst of a collective effort to recover the lands from which they were compulsively evicted in different periods by land eaters, transnational oil companies and governments, the Yukpas have been lately repopulating, decisive and progressively, these areas and they seem determined to recover them at all cost. Read more about the Yukpas peoples here....

Cauca: A Microcosm of Colombia, A Reflection of Our World

During the first two weeks of August, more than two dozen youth were assassinated by suspected paramilitary groups in the streets of Santander de Quilichao, and an extensive death threat was directed to Indigenous groups in the area.

In tandem with the rising tide of violence in Cauca, a department in Colombia’s southwest, the Colombian government is using the media to attack solidarity activists in Colombia and Canada through dangerous allegations.

Call it the storm after the passing calm that swept Colombia and the world after the July 2 rescue of Ingrid Betancourt and 14 prisoners of war held by the FARC.

Paramilitary violence historically pursues a double agenda of social cleansing and political cleansing through threats, detentions and killings; in this case, young men have been killed by paramilitaries in what some locals likened to a low-level drug war in Santander de Quilichao. The extrajudicial assassinations carried out in Santander de Quilichao, a town of about 100,000 people, are part of the paramilitary agenda to rid a given territory of their perceived enemies, and create fear among the general population. Read more about Cauca and Columbia here....

Indigenous Japanese See Culture as Key to Survival

Unlike his father, who used to get arrested fighting for Japan's indigenous Ainu people, Koji Yuki sees the key to securing his community's rights in preserving and spreading the culture.

As a child, Yuki's family fled discrimination on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, the traditional homeland of the Ainu, for Tokyo.

His father Shoji often clashed with police, shooting to notoriety when he scratched the name of Hokkaido's governor off the sculpture of an Ainu hero and called him an intruder.

By the time he was seven years old, Yuki's mother had left the family and he says now that she probably "got fed up with my father's radicalism".
"I think I understand her feelings," he said.

"I don't think anything will be created out of negative feelings. Our culture is full of treasures. I want to share them with others," Yuki said.

Yuki detached himself from any activities related to the Ainu until his early 30s but now aged 44, he has set up the Ainu Art Project, a loose support network of Ainu artists who dance, sing, tell stories and make coats with traditional patterns.
Like many other indigenous cultures, the Ainu are animist, believing spirits dwell in plants and animals. Read more about Ainu indigenous peoples here....

How Intellectual Property Rights Have Failed Pacific Cultures


It is an ambitious research venture underway this very moment on the picturesque island of Moorea in idyllic French Polynesia.

Over the next three years, the project’s scientists will be scouring every nook and cranny of the island, from the tip of its highest point to the bottom of its reefs, to sample its animal and plant life, fungus, larvae and anything else that moves or breathes there.

The project’s scientists aim to “construct a library of genetic markers and physical identifiers for every species of plant, animal and fungi on the island, then making that database publicly available as a resource for ecologists and evolutionary biologists around the world”.

Moorea is home to the University of California Berkeley’s Richard B. Gump South Pacific Research Station and France’s Centre de Reserchers Insulaires et Observatoire de l’Environenment, who are partners in this research.

By using DNA collected from their work, scientists will be able to “show how organisms fit together in the ecosystem” and therefore get a better view of nature’s every nuances. Read more about intellectual property rights in the Pacific here....

Fresh Violence in Bolivia Stokes Civil War Fears

Deadly clashes in Bolivia Thursday stoked fears of further widespread unrest and possibly even civil war, amid a furor over the expulsion of the US ambassador to the country.

At least two people were killed and a dozen people wounded in violent clashes between pro- and anti-government protesters in the northeastern town of Cobija, officials said.

It was the third day of street violence in parts of the country.

Asked about the unrest President Evo Morales, opening a public works project in La Paz, said: "We are going to be patient and cautious.

"We are going to hang in there. But patience has its limits, really," Morales stressed.

The conflagration was a worsening of a months-long political standoff between Morales, who has been pushing through socialist reforms since becoming president in 2006, and conservative governors in the east opposed to his reforms.

Morales, the first indigenous president of majority-indigenous Bolivia, has sought to distribute resources more equally in the poorest country in South America.

The conflict has racial overtones as relatively prosperous regions of the eastern lowlands, where more people are of European descent and mixed-race, are keen to hold on to local resources they see as being pulled away by the impoverished indigenous highlands.

Morales's spokesman, Ivan Canelas, said Wednesday conditions opened the way to "a sort of civil war." Read more about violence in Bolivia here....

Last weeks Five Key Indigenous People's Issues can be found here.

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