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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Anonymous said...

You got a nice blog. Are you interested in link exchange?
Im looking forward to your response

Peter N. Jones said...


We are always interested in promoting other sites that deal with indigenous peoples. We have a blog listing of other blogs by indigenous peoples that we would be happy to add a link on. Also, we would be happy to add a page on the growing Indigenous Peoples Issues and Resources site. If you or anyone else has a site that focuses on helping indigenous peoples or other ethnic minority groups, please send them along and we will link to them. The more we work together, the better for everyone.

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter
Even though my about is not about indigenous people, I would like to link exchange with you. I added your blog to my list :)

Derek Wall said...

may be of interest, its my take on ecology, indigenous, marxism with lots about Hugo Blanco who puts together Lucha Indigena newspaper in Peru...where the indigenous recently won a big victory!

Peter N. Jones said...

Interesting link Derek, thank you for sharing. I agree, indigenous struggles are leading the way towards ecological sanity.

HP Laptop Parts said...

The environment as we know of it today is not the purest thing. Especially, with motor car companies being in mass productions for the past oh my sooo many years and so many more years to come. The environment of the world as we know it hasn't really been performing at it's peak recently. And do we know why? Well of course, I mean we should know why, we basically are the ones to blame. Not specifying anyone in particular but I'm pretty sure us humans have contributed to the most part. But, as much damage as we've done, shouldn't we begin to think on how we can either reverse the effect or at the least minimize the pollution??

Peter N. Jones said...

Good points HP, we do know many of the causes of climate change yet fail to take any action towards resolving the problem. This is one of the reasons that it is critical to begin respecting and looking at indigenous peoples knowledge systems as they contain valuable information, methods, and procedures for dealing with the environment and climate change - often in a more sane way then our industrialized tendencies seem to take. Working together, we can perhaps begin to take on our contributions to climate change.

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