According to the ILO Convention, ‘Indigenous people are descended from the populations, who inhabited the country or geographical region at the time of the conquest, colonisation or establishment of present state boundaries. They retain some or all of their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions, irrespective of their legal status’.
Worldwide, there are 476 million people belonging to Indigenous communities. Indigenous people make up just 6 percent of the global population but they account for 19 percent of the extreme poor.
Why are many Indigenous people particularly vulnerable to climate change?
Because Indigenous people often live in harmony with nature and have a close relationship with the environment, they are often first to face the direct impacts of climate change. According to a study done by the ILO, there are six major reasons why many Indigenous people are particularly vulnerable to climate change.
The report highlights that the extreme poor are more vulnerable to climate related risks and as many Indigenous people belong to the 19 percent of the world’s extreme poor, for many their livelihoods and assets are under threat due to climate change induced natural disasters.
Secondly, many Indigenous people around the world are dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods. With the clearing of forest lands for agricultural activities, the livelihoods of these Indigenous men and women are not secure.
Third, many Indigenous people reside in geographical areas that are already exposed to the effects of climate change. For example, rural Indigenous communities residing in the Himalayan region who depend on the seasonal flow of water are facing increasing water insecurity as glaciers and snow cover are shrinking due to increases in global temperature.
Fourth, many Indigenous people worldwide have been forced to migrate due to loss of land as a result of climate change. For example, some Indigenous communities in Alaska have been forced to relocate due to the change in weather activities, loss of coastal ice, increases in sea levels and changes in permafrost thaw.
Fifth, the report found that forced migrations related to climate change exposes many Indigenous women and girls to risks of violence, discrimination and labor rights abuses.
Lastly, the report highlighted that many Indigenous communities are still excluded from decision making processes and lack institutional support. Thus making them increasingly vulnerable to climate change, undermining their ability to adapt to or mitigate climate change and restricting them in securing their rights.
Indigenous people are agents of change
As Indigenous people often live in harmony with nature, their knowledge is crucial to helping attain the sustainable development goals. The biodiversity conservation, land and forest management, traditional knowledge, livelihood strategies and ways of life that many Indigenous people practice hold the key to bridging the gap between climate targets and climate mitigation and adaptation.
Traditional Indigenous knowledge as climate solutions
“Indigenous women carry the knowledge of their ancestors while also leading their communities into a resilient future. When indigenous women engage, climate policies and actions at every level benefit from their holistic, nature-focused knowledge and leadership,” – UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, Patricia Espinosa
Indigenous peoples hold knowledge that is rooted in cultural and spiritual identities that often emphasise living in ‘harmony with nature’. Their traditional knowledge and skills can help humanity build up climate resilient communities.
Indigenous women are already using their knowledge to advance the sustainable development goals and adapt their communities to climate change.
In Eastern Panama, Indigenous women started the replantation of native tree species as a response to a lack of raw materials to build houses.
In Kenya, Indigenous women are working with forestry bodies for restoration activities. These women possess intimate knowledge and understanding of tree species, how to restore them, where to plant them and how to regenerate and conserve the ecosystem.
In Sri Lanka, Indigenous women utilise their traditional knowledge to purify water. They are aware that water from irrigation tanks can be unfit for consumption and therefore utilise burnt coconuts and burnt wood to reduce salinity and clean water.
In Bangladesh, rural Indigenous women use ash as a source of fertiliser for vegetables. They employ various methods passed down from generations to control pest attacks on harvest and thereby ensure food security.
In the Maasai community in Kenya, women manage farmlands and thereby interact with their local ecosystems and constantly monitor animal and plant species within the ecosystem. They share this knowledge with local communities for efficient decision making.
Indigenous women are agents of change for the sustainable development goals and climate action. They possess knowledge that provides nature-based solutions to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
On the occasion of International day for the World’s Indigenous Peoples, we celebrate their efforts and contributions to the sustainable development goals. We also hope that more people can learn from their ways of life and build a community that lives in harmony with nature.