03.10.2014 - Natural Sciences Sector

Building indigenous knowledge into climate action

© Peter Bates Fishing at the ice's edge in the summer

Hunter-gatherers, nomadic pastoralists and small island communities are often portrayed as victims of global warming; however indigenous leaders emphasized that indigenous peoples also had solutions and actions to offer at a UNESCO side event that aimed to help bring science and indigenous knowledge together in an effective and appropriate manner to better assess and minimize the impacts of climate change.

'Greenland will not be a passive victim of climate change,' vowed Ms. Aleqa Hammond, Premier of Greenland, during her keynote speech. The thinning of sea ice, she said, is making transportation challenging for Arctic people and changing the behavior of animals that local hunters depend on in their daily lives. Along with these changes are potential benefits from new economic opportunities. However, ‘protecting nature and its living natural resources, has throughout our history always been a priority for my people’ she said, through their profound connection and understanding of the incredibly sensitive Artic environment. She stressed that ‘actions of the Arctic to adapt to climate change should then draw not just on science but on different sources and experiences… and driven by the needs and aspirations of the peoples of the Arctic. Anything other than this would be wrong.’

In Nicaragua, shared Ms Mirna Cunningham, the indigenous Special Advisor to the President of the General Assembly, the emergence of the climate change agenda has hastened indigenous communities’ work on traditional knowledge. It is forcing them to think of traditional knowledge not just as a means to resist colonialism and defend cultural diversity but as a way to find solutions and apply it towards climate solutions. 

Echoing the need for holistic approaches to solving global environmental challenges, Ms. Flavia Schlegel, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for the Natural Sciences, said the path to sustainable development must draw on the full spectrum of available knowledge from the basic, natural and social sciences, but also from local and indigenous knowledge systems.

The side event, entitled Building Indigenous Knowledge into Climate Change Assessment and Adaptation, was held conjunction with the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP) and the UN Secretary General’s Summit on Climate Change on 22 September 2014.
It was organized by UNESCO, in partnership with the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations University Traditional Knowledge Initiative, to stimulate discussion and analysis of the current status of indigenous knowledge within intergovernmental processes.

While great strides have been made in the last decade towards recognizing the need to include local and indigenous knowledge, major questions remain about how science and indigenous knowledge can be brought together in assessment processes in an effective and appropriate manner. 

This event brought together indigenous peoples, scientists (including indigenous scientists) involved in climate change assessments to review the current status of indigenous knowledge in global environmental assessment processes, and identify next steps to ensure that diverse sources of knowledge can come together in an effective and culturally appropriate manner to better inform environmental understanding and decision-making.

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