Climate change and indigenous peoples

For indigenous peoples, climate change is not only an environmental issue but also a human rights issue and a question of cultural survival.

Read about the United Nations' Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and about indigenous peoples' advocacy in relation to this process here  (internal link)

Indigenous peoples are especially vulnerable to climate change

Regional and global assessments confirm that the Earth's climate is changing. Current and projected levels of exposure to climate-related sensitivities, as well as limits and restrictions to adaptive capacity, mean that some environments and peoples are more exposed to climate change and are significantly more vulnerable to its impacts and long-term consequences than others.

Indigenous peoples depend on natural resources for their livelihood and they often inhabit fragile ecosystems. At the same time, indigenous peoples are among the world's most marginalized, impoverished and vulnerable peoples.

Hence, while indigenous peoples bear the brunt of climate change, they have minimal access to resources to cope with the changes.

Climate change is a human rights issue

When ecosystems change, indigenous peoples' customary uses of wildlife, plants and forests are affected. Culturally and economically important species and resources may become more sparse or extinct. 

To indigenous peoples, climate change is, however, not simply a matter of physical changes to the environments in which they live. Many consider climate change a threat to their livelihoods and they fear that their economy and resource use will be threatened, followed by an erosion of social life, traditional knowledge and cultures. Hence, to indigenous peoples climate change is not only an environmental issue but also a human rights issue.

Despite the impact of climate change on indigenous peoples and their traditional knowledge, international experts most often overlook the rights of indigenous peoples as well as the potentially invaluable contributions that indigenous peoples' traditional knowledge, innovations and practices can bring to the global search for climate change solutions.

As the global discourse on climate change focuses on understanding how we can scientifically and technologically adapt to, as well as mitigate climate change, indigenous peoples are faced with the prospect of climate change further challenging their abilities to adapt to and cope with environmental and social changes.

Climate change mitigation initiatives

Indigenous peoples can play a key role in mitigation of climate change. As guardians of large areas of forest, indigenous peoples can have a central role in stopping deforestation. Land titling in favor of indigenous peoples, strengthening of local governance structures and sustainable community forestry are proven tools to quickly halt deforestation. By managing their ancestral land, indigenous peoples help increase forest cover and biodiversity. 

On the other hand, it must be acknowledged that in many cases, reforestation and renewable energy projects aiming at reducing greenhouse gas emissions pose an additional threat to indigenous peoples' tenure security, livelihoods and economies. The establishment of bio-fuel plantations, wind power project and hydroelectric dams on indigenous peoples' lands without their free, prior and informed content often lead to evictions and dispossession. Adding to the negative impacts of climate change itself on indigenous communities. 

It it thus crucial that mitigation initiatives make room for the inclusion and participation of indigenous peoples. That they respect indigenous peoples' rights and take into consideration their traditional knowledge.

Indigenous peoples are actively engaging in national and international processes on climate change and mitigation policies, including the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and national REDD+ programmes. 

Read more about indigenous peoples and climate change:



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COP 21: Tribal people on front line in battle against climate change

The COP 21 summit to be held in Paris from the end of the month has so far declined to give a voice to the indigenous peoples most directly threatened by ecological catastrophe. This omission comes despite clear evidence that tribal peoples are the best conservationists of the environments in which they live.

The global environmental summit will focus on energy policy in industrialised nations rather than the destruction of natural environments such as the Amazon. Despite the extensive efforts of indigenous peoples in Brazil and elsewhere in South America to resist logging, mining and ranching activities that continue to destroy vast swathes of the rainforest, there appears to be no impetus to lend them any support at COP 21.

A recent report from the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) found that very few of the governments attending the Paris summit have even mentioned indigenous rights in their conservation or climate policies. Twenty-six out of the forty-seven countries examined made no reference to tribal land management at all in their proposals.

Despite their exclusion from the major speaking platforms, hundreds of indigenous leaders from South America and elsewhere in the world will be attending in order to have their voices heard. They will include celebrated tribal activists Davi Yanomami, Raoni Kayapó and Mauricio Yekuana

On the subject of protecting the Amazon, Davi Yanomami said: “The climate is changing. Global warming, as you call it. We call it Motokari. It’s making the earth’s lungs sick. So we need to respect this world, we need to put the brakes on, we can’t continue destroying nature, earth, rivers. You can’t continue killing us, the Indians in the forest. We Indians know how to look after our forest.”

Some of the tribes actively battling to save their environment include:

  • The Guajajara: A group known as the Guajajara Guardians have attracted attention for their bold efforts at resisting deforestation. They have been involved in clashes with armed logging gangs, and even organised initial efforts to extinguish a huge fire in the Arariboia indigenous territory over the past two months.
  • The Ka’apor: Earlier this year, the Ka’apor responded to illegal logging in their territory by forming an indigenous ‘army’ to fight back. They have since suffered retributive violence.
  • The Guarani: The indigenous people of southwestern Brazil and Paraguay continue to have violence inflicted on them for their attempts to hold on to their land against sugar cane and soya farmers and big cattle ranching operations. In October, two Guarani teenagers were shot by ranchers, and the tribe has in recent years been trying to organise boycotts of the internationally exported beef and soya produced on their lands without their consent.

Tribal peoples are the best conservationists and guardians of the natural world. They are also the people most acutely affected by the destruction of the natural environment in which they live. Without the support of the international community, however, South America’s indigenous people and the Amazon regions in which they make their homes could be destroyed forever.

Read this online:
Source : Survival International


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Brazil authorizes operation of the Belo Monte Dam, disregarding the rights of affected communities


The Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) on Tuesday authorized the Belo Monte Dam’s operating license, which allows the dam’s reservoirs to be filled. The authorization was granted despite clear noncompliance with conditions necessary to guarantee the life, health and integrity of affected communities; the same conditions that IBAMA called essential in its technical report of September 22. IBAMA’s decision makes no reference to conditions needed to protect affected indigenous peoples. 

“We can’t believe it,” said Antonia Melo, leader of Movimiento Xingú Vivo para Siempre, who was displaced by the dam’s construction. “This is a crime. Granting the license for this monster was an irresponsible decision on the part of the government and IBAMA.

The president of IBAMA was in Altamira on November 5 and received a large variety of complaints. Everyone – riverside residents, indigenous representatives, fishermen, and members of the movement – talked about the negative impacts we’re living with. And now they grant the license with more conditions, which will only continue to be violated.”

In an official letter to IBAMA on November 12, the president of the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) concluded that conditions necessary for the protection of affected indigenous communities had clearly not been met. However, he gave free reign for the environmental authority to grant the operating license “if deemed appropriate.”

“The authorization clearly violates Brazil’s international human rights commitments, especially with respect to the indigenous communities of the Xingú River basin. Those affected populations are protected by precautionary measures granted in 2011 by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which the Brazilian government continues to ignore,” said María José Veramendi, attorney with the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA). 

The license allows for the filling of two of the dam’s reservoirs on the Xingú River, an Amazon tributary. It is valid for six years and is subject to compliance with certain conditions; progress will be monitored through semiannual reports. Such conditions should have been met before the dam’s license was even considered, let alone granted. 

“Environmental licensing is a way to mitigate the effects, control damage and minimize the risks that the dam’s operation entails for the community and the environment. By disrespecting and making flexible the licensing procedures, the government is allowing economic interests to prevail and ignoring its duty to protect the public interest,” said Raphaela Lopes, attorney with Justiça Global. 

AIDA, Justiça Global, and the Para Society of Defense of Human Rights have argued on both national and international levels that the conditions needed for Belo Monte to obtain permission to operate have not been met. The project must still guarantee affected and displaced populations access to essential services such as clean water, sanitation, health services and other basic human rights. 

“The authorization of Belo Monte, a project involved in widespread corruption scandals, contradicts President Rousseff’s recent statement before the United Nations, in which she declared that Brazil would not tolerate corruption, and would instead aspire to be a country where leaders behave in strict accordance with their duties. We hope that the Brazilian government comes to its senses, and begins to align its actions with its words,” said Astrid Puentes Riaño, co-director of AIDA. 

The green light for Belo Monte couldn’t have come at a worse moment. On November 5th, two dams impounding mine waste—owned by Samarco, a company jointly overseen by Vale and BHP Billiton—broke in the city of Mariana, Minas Gerais, causing one of the greatest environmental disasters in the country’s history. A slow-moving flood of mud and toxic chemicals wiped out a village, left 11 dead and 12 missing, and affected the water supply of the entire region, destroying flora and fauna for hundreds of miles around. The toxic flood has since reached the sea. The company’s operating licenses had expired two years ago. 

Approval of Belo Monte’s operating license comes just six days before the start of the Paris climate talks, the most important meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in recent history. Once in operation, Belo Monte will emit greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide and methane; as the world’s third-largest dam, it will become a significant contributor to climate change. 

By authorizing Belo Monte, the government of Brazil is sending a terrible message to the world. Ignoring its international commitments to protect human rights and mitigate the effects of climate change, the government is instead providing an example of how energy should not be produced in the 21st Century. 

Article first published at AIDA-Americas.org. Republished at IC Magazine under a Creative Commons License.
















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Indigenous people ignored in climate plans, seek voice at UN talks

The role of the world's more than 370 million indigenous peoples in fighting climate change has been largely ignored in national plans to curb planet-warming emissions issued ahead of upcoming U.N. climate talks, researchers and activists said on Wednesday.

The Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) found only a handful of governments included indigenous land and forest management as part of their climate strategies submitted to the United Nations in the run-up to negotiations in Paris to thrash out a new deal to limit global warming.

The RRI reviewed 47 "Intended Nationally Determined Contributions" (INDCs), designed to form the basis of a new deal, from countries with large rural or forested areas.

Only five emphasise indigenous land and forest management as part of their climate change strategies, it said, whereas 26 make no mention of it at all and 16 mention it in passing.

To make their voices count in the two-week talks starting on Nov. 30, hundreds of indigenous leaders living on the frontlines of climate change - from sinking Pacific islands to the melting Arctic and Indonesia's burning forests - will attend the summit.

"It is going to be a tough battle in Paris," Joan Carling, secretary general of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"We continue to be ignored at the national level, so what we're going to bring to the talks is the reality on the ground."

RRI analyst Ilona Coyle said plans submitted by Brazil, Guatamala and Peru highlighted the importance of respecting indigenous peoples' rights.

Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Peru also explained in their plans how indigenous peoples have been or will be consulted, and identify them as particularly vulnerable to climate change due to their dependence on natural resources.


A growing body of research shows that recognising indigenous peoples' rights is key in combating climate change, yet their role in preventing deforestation and land degradation continues to be a blind spot on the climate agenda, experts say.

Deforestation rates are significantly lower in areas where national governments formally recognise and protect the forest rights of indigenous peoples, according to a 2014 study by the RRI and the World Resources Institute.

To improve collaboration, the United Nations and the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC) have brought together indigenous leaders and high-level government officials in over 20 countries in recent months to discuss contributions they can make to slashing emissions.

Several more dialogues are scheduled in the weeks ahead, including in Brazil, which has more than 800,000 indigenous people.

Teanau Tuiono, an indigenous leader from the Pacific Caucus, said the discussion there had strengthened participants' resolve to protect the environment from climate change.

"We in the Pacific did not create climate change, but rising sea levels are putting islands and coastal communities under serious threat," he said. "Nonetheless, we're fighting. Not drowning."

Separately, AIPP's Carling said some progress had been made on deforestation, for example in Vietnam and Cambodia, where indigenous representatives have been included in national bodies dealing with forests.

"That would have been unthinkable in the past. But we still have a long, long way to go," she said.

The IIPFCC has issued demands for the final climate change agreement in Paris, saying it is "imperative" that the rights of indigenous people are recognised and respected.

Those should include the right to refuse attempts to seize indigenous lands for high-carbon investments in agriculture, logging, mining, oil and gas, dams and roads, as well as tourism, the forum said.

(Reporting by Bangkok newsroom; editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org to see more stories)

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation -


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Asia Report on Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples for COP21


This report is a summary of national reports of indigenous peoples from 12 countries in Asia and the results of the regional preparatory meeting of Asia indigenous peoples for the 21st session of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP21). This regional preparatory meeting which was organised by Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) on September 16-18 2015 in Chiang Mai, Thailand was participated by 30 selected indigenous peoples' representatives coming from Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Thailand, Lao PDR, Taiwan/China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines and Vietnam including representatives of regional networks of indigenous women, indigenous youth and indigenous persons with disabilities.

Download the Report from Here

Source : Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)

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