26.11.2015 - Natural Sciences Sector

Reinforcing the resilience of indigenous peoples and sharing knowledge to address climate change

© UNESCO/ I. Brugnon Cacique Raoni, of the Mato Grosso in Brazil, speaking at the opening of the conference.

The voices of indigenous peoples, so often side-lined in climate change debates, rang clearly from the podium at the opening of an international conference focusing on reinforcing resilience. As Governments prepare their final round of negotiations to agree on a coherent response to the climate crisis in Paris during COP21, the conference “Resilience in a time of uncertainty: Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change” is bringing together scientists, decision makers and indigenous peoples to share their knowledge and solutions on 26-27 November 2015 at UNESCO Headquarters.

Over 400 million of the world’s indigenous peoples live in territories that are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The Samis of northern Europe, Berbers living in the High Atlas in Morocco, indigenous villagers in Alaska, or Vanuatu communities in the Pacific Ocean, to name but a few, are experiencing adverse effects very keenly, although they contribute little to its causes. “Indigenous peoples suffer from the impacts of climate change, but they are not passive victims,” explained Flavia Schlegel, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences. “They respond, innovate and adapt to this changing context, and this source of resilience is deeply rooted in their lifestyles and social solidarity”.

The conference, organized by UNESCO and France’s National Natural History Museum with the support of the indigenous peoples’ organization, Tebtebba, is an opportunity for indigenous peoples to bring their solutions to the table, and to foster an exchange of knowledge and experiences between indigenous peoples and other experts. The conference is made possible through the support of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as part of their efforts to bring key issues of social justice to COP21.

The objective is to understand the contributions that diverse knowledge systems, such as indigenous knowledge, can make to reinforce the climate change knowledge base, and to highlight practical community-based solutions and initiatives while reinforcing the links between cultural diversity and the sustainability of the global environment. For the past ten years, UNESCO has been furthering these objectives through its Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (LINKS) initiative.

However, indigenous peoples need support to reinforce their resilience. Climate change is threatening their way of life, and thus both cultural and biological diversity. “Diversity of food crops is very important. With climate change, we are losing the diversity of key crops. We must teach the youth to keep the diversity of traditional food”, explained Lino Mamani (Quechua), pleading for the consideration of indigenous peoples’ human rights and cultural diversity in policy making.

COP21 must be a fantastic effort in human solidarity”, stressed Gilles Bœuf, scientific adviser on the environment, biodiversity and climate to the French Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy. Only thus can we meet the defining challenge of our time: combatting climate change while ensuring sustainable development for all peoples and nations.

It has been shown that decisions, policies and actions undertaken by the majority, even if well-intended, may prove inadequate, ill-adapted, and even inappropriate simply because decision-makers do not understand nor know the aspirations, rights and capacities of indigenous peoples,” said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz (Kankanay Igorot), UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, highlighting the importance of such events to foster dialogue and share perspectives and knowledge. “Successful adaptation and resilience achieved through processes that are community-driven, sensitive to local histories, ecologies and priorities.”

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