Climate Change is a Present-Day Reality
Super-typhoons in the South Pacific, Hurricane Sandy in New York, megafires in Australia, unprecedented floods in the Canadian Rockies, record droughts throughout the North American West – not a month goes by without the mainstream and social media describing another record-breaking weather-related calamity. Climate change is no longer a possibility—it is reality.
Indigenous Peoples Are on the Frontlines of Climate Change
Nobody knows this better than local Indigenous peoples who, having developed an intimate relationship with landscapes and ecosystems over generations, have observed climate change for years and increasingly bear the burden of its impacts. For members of Indigenous communities, global warming is not a set of model predictions, political spin, or a fundraising strategy—it is the inescapable reality of daily life.
Indigenous Peoples are the Stewards of the World’s Biological Diversity
A mere 4% of the world’s population, Indigenous peoples are caretakers of more than 20% of the Earth’s surface, with close to 80% of the planet’s remaining biodiversity found on their traditional territories. These communities have maintained an intimate and vibrant relationship with their environment, guided by traditional knowledge passed on from generation to generation through oral teachings, sustained through daily practice.
Traditional Knowledge – Key to Climate Change Adaptation
Pharmaceutical companies, ethnobotanists and hippies have known for decades that Traditional Knowledge can lead to new, better, and more effective medicines and have used this knowledge to their advantage, albeit too often with little regard for the rights of Indigenous knowledge holders. There are many reasons why the rich, ever-adaptive, and evolving Traditional Knowledge of Indigenous peoples has an important role to play in a world scrambling to deal with multiple environmental problems, including climate change:
- their agricultural expertise contributes greatly to global health and food security,
- their stewardship of ancestral domains protect the majority of the world’s remaining biological and cultural diversity,
- their ecological wisdom is the foundation for local adaptation and mitigation strategies.
Indigenous peoples are keen observers of their natural environments and their traditional knowledge, though new to climate science, has been long recognized as a key source of information and insight in biodiversity conservation, resource management, environmental impact assessment, and natural disaster preparedness. Indigenous understanding of weather is based on generational observations at a very fine local scale, focusing on what is important for local livelihoods and wellbeing. It is therefore essential for climate change adaptation. Traditional governance helps Indigenous peoples collectively manage diversity and share resources, while dissipating shocks and reinforcing innovations.