Bringing Indigenous and local knowledge to climate change research

“Local Indicators of Climate Change Impacts: the contribution of local knowledge to climate change research” is an ERC – funded project aiming to bring Indigenous and local knowledge to climate change research. Through cutting-edge science, Victoria Reyes-García and her team at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona strive to deepen our understandings of perceived climate change impacts, endeavour to bring Indigenous and local knowledge into policy-making processes, and influence international climate change negotiations.

Read more …

New Publication

Understanding Multidirectional Climate Change Impacts on Local Livelihoods through the Lens of Local Ecological Knowledge: A Study in Western Amazonia

Climate-related changes taking place in Amazonia substantially impact social-ecological systems, affecting local livelihoods strongly reliant on natural resources. Here, we investigate climate change impacts on different livelihood activities in western Amazonia, through the lens of local ecological knowledge. We conducted semi-structured interviews and surveys with ∼400 residents from 24 communities spread across a ∼600 km stretch of the Juruá River. Residents reported a vast set of changes, many referring to changes in the atmospheric system (e.g., more summer rainfall), but with cascading effects in physical, biological, and human systems. Beyond demonstrating the manifold and multidirectional climate change impacts, our findings highlight the contribution of local ecological knowledge in identifying vulnerable livelihood activities and biodiversity-based value chains.

Read more …

Report calls for Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge to be included in climate policy

A new report highlights how recognising Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ knowledge systems could do more to address climate change than many current approaches.

It also argues for ensuring the full and equitable inclusion of Indigenous Peoples and local communities within policy processes. The report, published as a white paper, was produced by an international team of 12 authors led by Prof Ben Orlove at Columbia University in the US, and including Dr Neil Dawson from the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the UK, and Dr Victoria Reyes-García from the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA) and Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technology of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (ICTA-UAB), in Spain. The team also included five Indigenous scholars.

Credits: Joel Redman/If Not Us Then Who

Co-sponsored by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the International Council on Monuments and Sites, the paper was a response to growing calls for international attention to be given to culture in climate change science and policy.

It is often assumed that climate change responses must involve new technology or behavioural changes driven by governments and big companies. However, the authors draw on diverse literature and case studies to illustrate why recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ knowledge systems would add much to western scientific approaches and represent a needed transformative change from current top-down efforts.

Credits: Joel Redman/If Not Us Then Who

This knowledge, held by the world’s 400 million Indigenous Peoples, plus many local, traditional communities, brings alternative ways of understanding and proven, bottom-up ways of addressing complex global problems, such as climate change and biodiversity loss.

However, counterproductively, many of these communities continue to suffer social, political, and economic discrimination – often including violence and displacement from their territories – and are most affected by environmental and climate change.

Dr Dawson, research fellow at UEA’s School of International Development and one of the report’s lead authors, said: “Respecting the human rights of Indigenous Peoples, their territories and their knowledge could do far more to address climate change than many proposed solutions. It’s shocking that this would represent such a huge change, but this report shows that diverse worldviews need much more recognition in climate politics and science.”

The examples detailed in the report include the contribution of Mapuche spirituality to climate change mitigation in Chile, customary processes guiding coastal village relocation in Fiji, local water management knowledge in the Spanish Sierra Nevada, and Indigenous fire management practices for forest conservation in Bolivia.

It also examines the resilience associated with traditional stone walling for agriculture in the Cordillera Region of the Philippines, local flood risk management in informal settlements in Sierra Leone, and Indigenous knowledge in urban settings, such as the San Francisco Bay area and Phoenix Valley in the United States.

Enhanced collaboration between western science and these diverse knowledge systems has been increasingly called for in international reports, as a way to improve the effectiveness of climate action.

“Put simply, many international bodies now recommend far more prominent roles and opportunities for Indigenous leaders and representatives to influence decisions and commitments in global climate negotiations and national level climate strategies”, said Dr Reyes-García, ICREA Professor at ICTA-UAB.

But, as the report illustrates, this is not so quick and easy to achieve. Knowledge systems are highly complex, rooted in differing worldviews and values. Although sometimes assumed to be outdated and not relevant to the modern world, Indigenous knowledge systems are active, dynamic, contemporary, and highly resilient.

Knowledge systems not only include values, such as spiritual beliefs and connections to nature, but also ways of deciding, organising and actively governing, managing and caring for land and resources. They play a crucial role in sustainably managing much of the world’s critical ecosystems, species and resources.

There is a growing consensus that we are not responding to climate change with the necessary speed or effectiveness”, explained Rosario Carmona, research fellow at the Research Centre for integrated Disaster Risk Management in Chile. “To meet this challenge, we urgently need to understand the problem from a different perspective. Indigenous Peoples’ values and worldviews have much to contribute.” The report – titled ‘Intangible cultural heritage, diverse knowledge systems and climate change’ – outlines steps to be taken towards enhanced recognition of Indigenous and local knowledge systems, such as full, secure rights to Indigenous territories and languages, respect for rights, and highlights characteristics of more equitable collaboration. Developing intercultural understanding, trust and appropriate governance processes can take years and goes against many assumptions and entrenched ways of addressing environmental crises, but the report says this is essential for sustaining ecosystems and people.

At local levels more effective climate action could be achieved through securing rights to Indigenous territories and supporting customary institutions. National climate strategies and Nationally Determined Contributions should include customary governance and local stewardship as vehicles for delivering sustainable emissions levels.

At an international level, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change should elevate the role of the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform and facilitate more direct resourcing of Indigenous Peoples and local communities to support the application and resilience of diverse knowledge systems.

In addition, the assessment processes of the IPCC should include more Indigenous scholars as assessment authors/lead authors, use wider forms of citation and case studies for the upcoming Assessment Round 7 and beyond, and more evidence synthesis related to the roles played Indigenous Peoples and local communities through their traditional but evolving systems.

For further information and interviews Dr Neil Dawson can be contacted via

The report is available via this link:

The landscape of Sierra Nevada

by David García del Amo

This month has been published finally the book: “The Landscape of Sierra Nevada. A unique laboratory of global processes in Spain”. 

The Sierra Nevada hosted the last glaciers in southern Europe. Today, it is one of the most important centers of plant diversity in the western Mediterranean and one of the most outstanding in Europe. Its ecological characteristics have allowed it to be designated as a Natural Park, National Park and Biosphere Reserve. This massif has ideal conditions to analyze past environments as well as the effects of global change on ecosystems. This book brings an interdisciplinary approach that summarize all the scientific knowledge about this massif, from the geomorphological and ecological perspectives to the understanding of Sierra Nevada as a social-ecological system, including also recent spatial adaptive management and Open Science initiatives.

David García del Amo y Victoria Reyes García collaborated to this project with the chapter “Local Ecological knowledge and the sustainable co-management of Sierra Nevada social-ecological system”. In this chapter, they analyzed the importance of LEK of local communities of Sierra Nevada to preserve the ecological conditions and landscape of Sierra Nevada. In their assessment, they presented the historical co-evolution of local communities and the ecosystems of Sierra Nevada, and how traditional agropastoral activities, including traditional water management, have modeled the landscape of Sierra Nevada. Along with this chapter, they presented how different drivers of change have been eroding traditional activities of these communities and the LEK associated, but also how these activities could contribute with the management and conservation objectives.

Figure 1 (left). A) Acequia de careo without water to carry out repair works. B) Members of Bérchules´ irrigation community clearing an acequia de careo. C) Aliviadero on the side. D) Aliviadero overflow and flow limiter. E) Partidor of acequia de careo of the Poqueira ravine. F) Water catchment for an acequia de careo. G) Acequia de careo of Bérchules.

Figure 2 (right). A) Shepherd milking in a traditional way, B) Farmer with patatas de la sierra, C) Shepherd with his flock D) Traditional braiding with esparto, E) Old farmer using a traditional tool

Link to the book: here!

Giving Back to Communities: What and how to give back

by Ouerle Chao (co-organizer o the LICCI webinar “giving back to local communities”)

At the last LICCI webinar, themed “Giving Back to the Community,” it was our goal to have an open discussion and brainstorm with our LICCI partners and collaborators on what and how to give back to communities.

Vincent, one of the core team members, opened the webinar by discussing the significance of giving back to communities. He defines it as a position, as part of the decolonial approach and research, and a working framework derived from practical anthropology. As a means of promoting and enforcing local knowledge sovereignty, it is of significant importance. In addition, it stresses local agency and facilitates knowledge co-construction.

First, we may consider our LICCI results in terms of the content we give back to communities. However, we might want to ask ourselves: if we’re to share our results with the community, what would we disclose? Is this what the community is actually interested in? And answers to these two questions might be found in the local communities.

As a starting point, Vincent began by presenting four examples, one from his own study and three from those of his colleagues. He spends a lot of time with the Betsileo people in Madagascar as part of his studies. Locals were intrigued by his botany research and requested a field guide that included photos of the plants as well as their scientific and local names in Malagasy, French, and English. The second example was the Tuareg community’s circular annual calendar developed by Mohamed and his colleagues, which was more suited to their knowledge and demands. The next example comes from the LICCI core team member, Julián. He and José Tomás organized an event, as a form of giving back, about the permaculture practice of the Mapuche people in Chile. They also created an infographic to show the agroforestry/permaculture system the local people use. The final example comes from Juliette Mariel, who is working in Madagascar. As a form of giving back, she decided to use all of the images, sounds, films, and drawings she’d gathered during his fieldwork to create a short documentary for the community.

After the presentation of Vincent, other attendees also shared their past experiences and ideas for giving back. One of the LICCI core team members, Mouna, said that she organized a restitution meeting to discuss her preliminary results with the community, and she had photos to accompany it. She also indicated an interest in incorporating innovative and artistic forms into her last giving back session. The LICCI project’s primary investigator, Victoria, discussed the use of theatre format as a creative means of establishing a conversation between the researcher and the local community. As a core team member, Andre expressed his thoughts on working with the local institute, which has a long-standing presence in the region. Sharing the LICCI findings with them could help them prepare for the future of local management.

A central tenant of LICCI has always been to work with and in consideration of the communities and people who make this project possible. So with that, this webinar took the initial step to help the members, partners, and collaborators consider different approaches to working with communities. We hope to keep this dialogue open, active and in reflection of changes.

Coral reef socio-ecological systems in a changing environment: voices from Kenyan small-scale fishers

by Mouna Chambon

Coral reefs are famous for hosting rich marine life and providing major services to coastal communities around the world. Yet, those fragile ecosystems are increasingly threatened by human pressures such as overfishing, pollution and climate change. This is especially true in the western Indian Ocean, which has experienced massive coral bleaching events over the last three decades due to global warming. For 7 months, LICCI members have investigated the activities of small-scale fishing communities on the southern coast of Kenya. They told us about the changes they see in their marine environment and how they respond to it. Here is their story.

Octopuses and fish are dying here; it is because the ocean is too hot”, says Matogo Mchambi Dosa, with a stick in hand and a shell bucket on her back. She is walking along the reef of Wasini Island, southern Kenya, to spot octopuses. When she was young, she used to stalk fishermen for days, trying to learn how they were hunting octopuses. Since then, she has become an outstanding octopus hunter. She is now the one teaching this technique to her community, passing down the knowledge of what used to be a male affair, to ladies. But nowadays, conditions are getting tough for footfishers. She explains: « Since I have started fishing, I have seen a lot of changes in the climate. Sea temperatures have considerably increased, and that is why most of the octopus’ dens here are empty. The octopuses prefer to migrate from the shore to deeper and cooler waters in the open ocean”. No octopus means no money for Matogo. On Wasini Island, as in other regions of the world, small-scale fishers rely heavily on coral reefs for their livelihoods, nutritional needs and well-being.

As shown by Matogo’s story, small-scale fishing activities are highly gendered. On the south coast of Kenya, the reef acts as a strong marker of gendered spatial division. While men are using the whole seascape to harvest resources of fisheries, using foot, canoe or motorboat, fisherwomen are restricted to the inner reef area. For both cultural and economic reasons, they do not have the opportunity to fish from a boat, thus limiting their activities to the coastline. Since women and men tend to fish in different parts of the reef, they usually target distinct species and hold complementary knowledge of marine resources. On one hand, women possess very specific knowledge about the tides, the lunar cycle and the ecology of shell species and octopus in the nearshore waters. On the other hand, men who can fish beyond the reef and access the open ocean, have deep knowledge about the currents, the winds and pelagic and demersal fish species. Those gender patterns are not specific to Kenya but echo to many other coral reef-dependent communities around the world, where gender influences the access, use and knowledge related to tropical seascapes.

Picture 1: Matogo Mchambi Dosa, octopus hunter from Mkwiro community in Wasini Island. She is looking for octopuses at low tide to gather food for her family.

Through their intimate experience of the sea, local fishing communities are aware of changes happening in the reef. For many of them, “the weather is changing”: there is more heat, less regular rainfalls and conflicting winds. Local communities are especially worried about fluctuations in seasonality. Their fishing activities are strongly influenced by the alternating monsoon seasons, Kusi and Kaskazi. During the cool season of Kusi (April-October), there is a lot of wind and the sea is particularly rough, so very few fishers go out to sea. On the contrary, the dry and calm season of Kaskazi (November-March) corresponds to a period of high catch. Over the years, the transition between seasons has become less clear:“we are experiencing more and more mixed weather: the conditions of Kusi are seen during Kaskazi, so it is very confusing”. Besides changes in climate, local fishers have also witnessed rising water temperatures and shifting tidal patterns: “tides might come earlier or later than expected” (footfisher from Wasini Island).

Picture 2: Mwaka, a footfisher from Wasini Island, is struggling to find shells and octopuses because of changes in the timing of the spring tide period (“bamvua” in local language): “Bamvuas are less predictable than before. Tides might come earlier or later than expected”. She ends up spending less time fishing and more time looking for alternative sources of income, such as selling firewood.

In turn, those changes in the ocean are affecting marine life with major changes observed in the behavior, distribution and mortality of marine plants and animals. As an example, fishermen widely complain about the decline in brittle stars. Those starfish-like species, which are used locally as a bait to catch fish with basket traps, are increasingly hard to find nowadays. Local people attribute these environmental changes to both changing weather conditions and human activities, especially overfishing. As a result, fishers consider that they are making less money than in the past, which impacts the community at large:Because of the increase in water temperature, there is less fish available (…) It affects the whole economy here, because most of the businesses depend on the sea”(fish processor, Kibuyuni village).

Picture 3: Brittle stars are used as bait by basket-trap fishers. Recently, fishermen have noticed a reduction in the availability of brittle stars, so they have started to shift to other types of bait such as squids.

To address those changing conditions in the reef, local people have decided to take action. Over the last decade, they have organized themselves as local community groups to efficiently manage their marine resources and ensure sustainable alternative livelihoods. Those groups are called “Beach Management Units’ – or BMU in short. The membership is open to anyone who depends on the sea for living, both women and men. Through the BMUs, and with the support of donors, NGOs and researchers, local people have been able to navigate through environmental changes and implement suitable solutions. On Wasini Island for instance, the BMUs have created two local marine protected areas (MPA) that are directly ruled by the villagers themselves. Within those local MPAs, no fishing is allowed at all. Instead, BMU members are monitoring coral health on a weekly basis. They hope that this local protection status will help to increase fish biomass and make the corals more resilient to future potential bleaching events. In addition, tourists can visit the local MPAs and contribute to sustain local incomes. Such community-based initiative contributes to reverse marine biodiversity loss and climate change impacts, while supporting local livelihoods. It shows that BMU activities are pivotal for small-scale fishing communities to cope with rising temperatures, depleting resources and increasing poverty. BMU actions also demonstrate the agency of local communities to respond to the problems they perceive and ensure the viability of their way of life and identity as people of the sea: “Even if we find less fish than before, people are still determined to try their luck. All the knowledge we have is related to the ocean, so we stick to fishing activities” (Female foot fisher, Wasini Island).

Picture 4: BMU member wearing a conservation T-shirt: “I plant the mangrove; I take care of the environment” (from Kiswahili). Through the BMU, local communities from the south coast are sensitive to the protection of their marine environment.

“Who and what am I without fish and fishing?”:  How climate change is shaping the identity of indigenous peoples in Nekrasovka on Sakhalin Island

by Evgeniya Dudina

The Nivkhi are an indigenous people who have traditionally lived in the region of the Lower Amur river and Sakhalin Island. According to the most recent census (2020), there are around two thousand Nivkhi remaining on Sakhalin. Their livelihood depends almost entirely on fishing and gathering wild berries and plants.

One afternoon in August 2021 I was walking a sandy dusty road in Sakhalin’s northernmost village, Nekrasovka––headed to the house of one of my assistants, Elena (her name has been changed). She is a member of the Nivkh community, a mother of five, and a very experienced fisher––stronger, bolder, and often more knowledgeable than the male elders. It was a summer of unprecedented heat and little precipitation thus the unusually dusty road. Locals were both glad and worried about the weather, noting that “we’ve never had such a summer before, one that feels like a ‘real’ summer.”  Among the other factors influencing local livelihood, such as oil and gas extraction and industrial fishing, the increasing temperatures are dramatically affecting the fishing season. Every summer the season has started earlier and earlier, with less and less fish.

My visit to Sakhalin coincided with the most tense and busy period of year. From July until October the Nivkh community is engaged in fishing in the Pomr’ and Baikal bays ––first, for pink salmon and later for chum. During my time in Nekrasovka, the village seemed both empty and alive: while elderly people (mostly women) were in the forest and wetlands collecting wild berries, younger men and women spent the bulk of their time on the shore catching fish, with great focus and intensity. The sharp, pungent smell of fish was everywhere.

The main purpose of my work in Sakhalin was to try to understand how climate change is shaping local livelihood, self-perception and the community itself. In casual conversations, formal interviews, and during focus group discussions, I frequently heard people voice their concerns about their future; their tone was often marked by a sense of fatalism and hopelessness. The threat of the disappearance of fish means, for Nivkhi, not only losing their subsistence way of life, but also a diminishing of the community’s understanding of itself. As I heard many people say during my time on Sakhalin: fishing here, on this land, is who we are. If there is no fishing, who and what are we?

In a patchwork attempt to adjust to the changes brought about by the climate crisis, Nivkhi in Nekrasovka are working to change the catching composition and are focusing on other species of fish that have recently appeared in the region in greater numbers, but they are dependent on a market demand that is primarily focused on salmon. 

I left Nekrasovka in October, at the end of the summer fishing season and the beginning of a time of waiting: waiting for the ice to freeze on the bay and the winter fishing season to start. The locals call this time the ‘season of silence.’ The summer’s sand and dust on the road had washed away, leaving large pits and puddles. Elena’s children went to school along the same road. During the summer season, she and her husband had been able (with manageable debts) to catch and sell almost enough fish to get their children ready for school that year. But what the next year will be like, and the years to come – no one knows. The signs that the locals have traditionally been guided by become unreliable in conditions of increasing climate change.

Chiloé Agriculture: a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System threatened by drought

by Julián Caviedes

Fieldwork is one of the most exciting and fun aspects of doing research. You get the chance to travel, meet new people and places, and live unique experiences. In the field is were you get inspiration and energy to survive the endless hours in front of the computer you will spend once the fieldwork ends. For some, it is one of the main reasons for doing a PhD (but this is supposed to be a secret). However, fieldwork also comes with responsibilities derived from working with people. One needs to be humble and sensitive as you are engaging mostly with people you do not know and who do not know you, and have to be extremely careful in not creating false expectations. It is expected that you generate a symbiotic relationship where you try to get information to answer to your questions but also contribute with something that will be useful to the people you are working with. With all that in mind I got to the Archipiélago de Chiloé (south of Chile) in November 2021 to spend five months doing fieldwork for my PhD in livelihood resilience of chilote campesinos in the face of social-environmental change.

The Chiloé Archipelago, composed of one main island (isla grande) and around 40 smaller islands, is well known for its agriculture and potatoes. Yes, you read right, potatoes. With more than 300 native varieties grown on the island, Chiloé is recognized as a secondary center of origin for the potato (Picture 1). Small-scale agriculture in Chiloé, which includes the cultivation of potatoes, homegardens, orchards, apple farms, poultry, sheeps and cattle, is the fundamental pillar of the food sovereignty of the island’s inhabitants (Picture 2). In 2011, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), designated ‘Chiloé Agriculture’ as one of the 62 ‘Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems’ (GIAHS), thus recognizing the local and global importance of this agroecosystem. However, various global and local change processes are strongly affecting the resilience of agriculture in Chiloé and the campesino livelihoods of the archipelago. Note that I said campesinos, not peasants, not farmers[1].

The first thing that I did when I got to the island was to present myself to the local authorities, the political and the traditional ones. I told them who I was and what my research was about, and asked them for ways in which I could contribute with something that could be useful to deal with their own problematics. I also contacted the people in charge of the agricultural extension programs and people who have been doing research on the island. It was important that they all knew me, and all their inputs were very important for my research and my stay on the island. During my first field season I wanted to explore two main questions, (i) what were the observations of social-environmental changes perceived by campesinos in Chiloé, and (ii) what where the perceived drivers of those changes. After some weeks on the island, a chilote[2] friend introduced me to Patricia, a very experienced campesina who lives near Castro, the main city in the island. Since the beginning we got really well with Pati, the day after we met she invited me to mariscar (harvest seafood) and then we prepared a curanto, a typical dish from the island which includes seafood, chicken, smoked pork, potatoes (always potatoes), and faba beans, among other ingredients (Picture 3, 4). We spend several afternoons working in her potato field and homegardens and talking about the island’s history and the recent processes happening there. She also introduced me to some of her friends and then, using a snowball sample, I got to interview 15 people from three different Municipalities of the island.

From the interviews I surprisingly found that the main observations of change were related to drought. Chiloé has historically have main precipitations above 2.000mm a year. In 1935 Charles Darwin described the island like this: “In winter, the climate is detestable, and in summer it is only a little better. I should think there are few parts of the world, within the temperate regions, where so much rain falls” (Darwin 1860, The Voyage of the Beagle). However, the rainy Chiloé seems to be a thing of the past as all the participants mentioned that ‘it rained more in the past’, ‘droughts are more intense now’, and ‘temperatures are higher now’. This is extremely worrying for local campesinos as the agriculture in Chiloé is mostly rainfed. When asked about the drivers that there influencing those changes, campesinos mentioned global changes, but also processes that were occurring at a local scale. Most campesinos attributed drought to changes in the atmospheric system, derived from climate change. However, they also mentioned that the establishment of exotic tree plantations, the reduction in native forest surface and the extraction of peat mosses for international selling were all having detrimental effects in the availability of underground waters. As a participant told me “The water in Chiloé comes from the sky and the earth, from the rain, from groundwater, from the forest and peat mosses”.

Local communities, such as campesinos in Chiloé, are some of the most vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change. Paradoxically, their voices are rarely heard by policymakers in charge of creating and implementing adaptations or response measures. Responses to climate change must be site-specific and not standardized, as for example an island as Chiloé, will have different adaptations requirements that a mountainous ecosystem. Therefore, it is imperative that local voices are heard and considered when deciding policies regarding adaptation to climate change. Overall fieldwork was great, the island is wonderful and chilote people were amazing. Now, while writing this piece and seeing at pictures, I realize how much I want to be in the field again. I am counting the days to return to the island and to see the people I met.

[1] Please read

[2] Chilote or chilota are the local names that receive the people who live on the island.