Making Indigenous voices heard in climate change debate

a kid holding a placard 'there is no planet B' wth factories in the background.
  • Published Date: 07 November 2019

Carissa Lee Godwin, Editor, APO’s First Peoples & Public Policy Collection, highlights the main findings from a United Nations (UN) report on Indigenous peoples, traditional knowledge and climate change. 

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) recently compiled a report entitled Indigenous Peoples and Traditional Knowledge in the Context of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. This report was created in the hope that it will function as a useful tool for all actors involved in climate policies and climate actions, including governments, private corporations, and financial institutions.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states in the preface: “It is my hope that this [report] will serve as an instrument for Indigenous peoples to use in establishing partnerships with all relevant players to achieve the common goals of mitigating climate change and achieving sustainable development.”

It is recommended and reiterated throughout the report that UNFCCC parties need to recognise the urgent need to respect and promote the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples, which derive from their political, economic and social structures, as well as from their cultures, spiritual traditions, histories and philosophies, especially their rights to their lands, territories and resources. It lists decisions and conclusions recommended by Indigenous peoples that have been implemented under the UNFCCC process.

Since 2000, Indigenous peoples have participated in the UNFCCC negotiation process, making sure their views are part of the decisions adopted under the UNFCCC. This report lists the mandates related to the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform (LCIPP) and thematically lists other references to Indigenous peoples and their knowledge. It also includes a chronological index listing decisions and mandates implemented under the recommendation of Indigenous collaborators.

Key policy recommendations

The necessity and benefit of including Indigenous peoples’ inputs in policies and strategies addressing climate change is supported throughout the report. It is an important reference that should be used to remind parties of what they have agreed to, and to support them to work closely with Indigenous collaborators to implement these decisions. 

The key recommendations are as follows:

  1. Parties should recognise the urgent need to respect and promote the rights of Indigenous peoples affirmed in treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements with their respective states.
  2. The diversity of Indigenous peoples’ collective and individual experiences needs to be recognised, and Indigenous women need to be involved in climate actions.
  3. It should be acknowledged that climate change affects everyone. The Adoption of the Paris Agreement states that: “Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of Indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity.”
  4. Parties should follow a fully transparent approach when including Indigenous peoples’ recommendations when writing socio-economic and environmental policies.

Collective benefits

Indigenous knowledge is recognised as “an invaluable basis for developing adaptation and natural resource management strategies in response to environmental and other forms of change” in the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. There are numerous benefits to be gained from cultural collaboration between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, specifically:

  1. Self-determination: Indigenous self-determination over lands, territories and resources will strengthen Indigenous institutions, cultures and traditions.
  2. Learning: Acknowledging and respecting Indigenous knowledge and practices contributes to sustainable management and development of the environment.
  3. Knowledge: By promoting the exchange of experiences and best practices with a view to applying these, the LCIPP will serve to protect and preserve Indigenous knowledge that addresses and responds to climate change.

Indigenous peoples’ knowledge is a vital asset that can play a significant role towards healing the planet from the effects of climate change. We all have much to learn, and much to gain.

About the First Peoples & Public Policy Collection

As part of its mission to improve Indigenous policy in Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand, ANZSOG is working to increase knowledge of Indigenous culture and history. Part of this is our support of the Analysis & Policy Observatory’s (APO) First Peoples & Public Policy Collection, launched at our Reimagining Public Administration conference in February 2019.

APO is an online knowledge hub that makes public policy research visible, discoverable and usable. It contains more than 40,000 resources, including specialist collections, grey literature reports, articles and data.

The First Peoples & Public Policy Collection is curated from a broad selection of key Indigenous policy topics, and provides a valuable resource on Indigenous affairs, with a focus on diverse Indigenous voices.

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