On 28 February 2022, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the latest report from the Working Group II, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, in which researchers from all over the world have collected, compiled and updated current knowledge on climate change impacts, adaptation options and hindrances, and implications for vulnerability.
In recent years, the IPCC has increasingly recognized the significance of incorporating Indigenous and local knowledge into climate change agenda. While in previous reports the focus was mainly placed on scientific knowledge, Indigenous and local knowledge has receded into the background in form of marginal notes. However, in recent years the IPCC has started to increase its efforts towards more inclusive approaches on Indigenous and local knowledge, hence towards a more balanced representation of different knowledge systems.
Several LICCI members and partners, including Victoria Reyes-García, Xiaoyue Li,Anna Schlingmann and Eranga Galappaththi, have contributed to chapter five “Food, Fibre, and other Ecosystem Products” in the second IPCC report. In their work, they reviewed, aggregated and summarized recent research on the current and future contribution and importance of Indigenous and local knowledge systems for the understanding and reduction of climate change impacts in the food systems. When Indigenous Peoples and local communities “[…] (have) access to and control over their lands and natural resources, food systems can potentially be more sustainably managed and more resilient.” For example, preserving locally adapted native crops and promoting diversified cropping systems such as milpa can help against climate shocks such as drought or cold waves, without the need for expensive and toxic chemical fertilizers. Furthermore, a culture of sharing and mutual support increases the resilience of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, not only in times of stress and emergency.
Nevertheless, given the rate of current and future climate change is unprecedented for human society, nature resource-based livelihoods and well-being of Indigenous Peoples and local communities are and will be at least challenged, if not threatened, and local responses to new stresses will be needed.
It is therefore inevitable to foster bottom-up adaptation in form of co-operations and co-management with Indigenous Peoples and local communities to strengthen sustainable and successful adaptation to climate change.
Throughout human history, Indigenous peoples and local communities (LCs) have managed landscapes rich in biocultural diversity (Agnoletti 2015, IPBES 2019). Constantly evolving, the landscape holds multiple socio-cultural and natural relations with complex networks that interact and are mutually influenced. Governed by indigenous and local knowledge systems (ILKS) (beliefs, norms and values), this human-nature connection moderates and adapts socio-ecological dynamics (Folke et al., 2007). This cultural landscape is commonly threatened by the development of exploitation projects, affecting indigenous and local communities’ resilience and agency to sustain their knowledge systems and the ecological elements embedded within (Brondzio et al., 2021). New pathways are needed to transform the current system, moving towards a just system (IPBES, 2019).
Future: for who and by whom?
Future thinking is a tool that has been used to envision the future and move forward transformation in the international policy arena (Tengo et al., 2021). However indigenous peoples and local communities have been segregated and excluded from this process (Lam et al., 2020), despite the recognized value of integrating it within future narrative development (Pereira et al., 2019; IPBES, 2019). Consequently, the most influential voices are the ones defining the future, perpetuating power dynamics. The lack of integration of local knowledge has led to a misconception of the social-ecological systems overlooking biocultural diversity (Pereira, 2018) and underestimating demands and vulnerabilities at the local level (Sharma et al., 2020).
For instance, conservation policies perpetuate colonialism through commodifying nature, stigmatizing traditional livelihoods, and fitting native landscapes into colonial accounts (Krause et al., 2020). The Amazon and Patagonia in South America serve as examples of this. IPLCs from the Amazon have been portrayed as the main drivers of the wild-life crisis, facing policies that constrain their livelihoods and the system protected by their knowledge (Van Vliet, 2019). In Patagonia, local communities have been facing the challenges of green conservation strategies, redefining nature as a “natural museum,” affecting local communities and their traditional livelihoods (Aliste et al., 2019).
Indigenous Future Thinking
Key elements to include in transformation research are
integrating local and indigenous ways of thinking about future;
understanding transformation from local and indigenous perspectives (Lam et al 2020; Whyte 2017);
integrating the plurality of human-nature relations;
looking into the future through environmental justice lens, who needs to transform?
recognizing the non-tangible values (Yunkaporta, 2020) and
the political dimension of human and nature connection (Merçon 2019, Gorg et al 2017).
Bringing indigenous and local voices into future scenarios requires a co-production process (Lam et al., 2020). In this sense, indigenous future thinking can lead the process of social-ecological transformation, integrating different understandings of the future, better-informing policy decision-making at global, regional, and local levels (Tengö., et al, 2021). Nevertheless, several challenges related to power asymmetries, trust, recognition of colonial legacies, and racism towards indigenous knowledge are still present. There is a call to reflect on how we can co-produce without perpetuating the marginalization and exclusion of ILK to build the future (van Velden, 2021).
Aliste, E., A. Nuñez, A. Bello, and J. Astaburuaga. 2019. Eco-extractivismo y los discursos de la naturaleza en Patagonia-Aysén: nuevos imaginarios geográficos y renovados procesos de control territorial. Revista Austral de Ciencias Sociales.
Apgar, M. J., W. Allen, K. Moore, and J. Ataria. 2015. Understanding adaptation and transformation through indigenous practice. Ecology and Society 20(1):45.
Görg, C., U. Brand, H. Haberl, D. Hummel, T. Jahn, and S. Liehr. 2017. Challenges for social-ecological transformations: Contributions from social and political ecology. Sustainability (Switzerland) 9(7).
IPBES (2019): Summary for policymakers of the global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. S. Díaz, J. Settele, E. S. Brondízio E.S., H. T. Ngo, M. Guèze, J. Agard, A. Arneth, P. Balvanera, K. A. Brauman, S. H. M. Butchart, K. M. A. Chan, L. A. Garibaldi, K. Ichii, J. Liu, S. M. Subramanian, G. F. Midgley, P. Miloslavich, Z. Molnár, D. Obura, A. Pfaff, S. Polasky, A. Purvis, J. Razzaque, B. Reyers, R. Roy Chowdhury, Y. J. Shin, I. J. Visseren-Hamakers, K. J. Willis, and C. N. Zayas (eds.). IPBES secretariat, Bonn, Germany. 56 pages. https://ipbes.net/sites/default/ files/2020-02/ipbes_global_assessment_report_summary_for_policymakers_ en.pd
Krause, T., M. P. Quiceno-Mesa, and U. Yucuna. 2020. Indigenous ecological knowledge in the Colombian Amazon – challenges and prospects for a more sustainable use of local forest fauna. Pages 109–127.
Lam, D., E. Hinz, D. Lang, M. Tengö, H. von Wehrden, and B. Martín-López. 2020. Indigenous and local knowledge in sustainability transformations research: a literature review. Ecology and Society 25(1):3.
Merçon, J., S. Vetter, M. Tengö, M. Cocks, P. Balvanera, J. Rosell, and B. Ayala-Orozco. 2019. From local landscapes to international policy: contributions of the biocultural paradigm to global sustainability 2.
Pereira, L., N. Sitas, F. Ravera, A. Jimenez-Aceituno, and A. Merrie. 2019. Building capacities for transformative change towards sustainability: Imagination in Intergovernmental Science-Policy Scenario Processes. Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene 7:35.
Pereira, L., T. Hichert, M. Hamann, R. Preiser, and R. Biggs. 2018. Using futures methods to create transformative spaces: Visions of a good anthropocene in Southern Africa. Ecology and Society 23.
Sharma.,A., A.Tofghi., and V. Reyes García. 2020. Better rights, better data. Indigenous Peoples and local communities recognition and participation change policy. LICCION.
Tengö, M., R. Hill, P. Malmer, C. M. Raymond, M. Spierenburg, F. Danielsen, T. Elmqvist, and C. Folke. 2017. Weaving knowledge systems in IPBES, CBD and beyond-lessons learned for sustainability. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 26-27:17-25.
Tengö, M.; Darriet, L.; Gebeyehu, F.; Gebremariam, G.; Kamau, E.; Kinya, J.; Malmer, P.; Megersa, A.; Mitambo, S.; Muriuki, M.; Mwongera, V.; Oussou Lio, A.; 2021. Indigenous Futures Thinking: Changing the narrative and re-building based on re-rooting. Workshop report. SwedBio at Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm, Sweden.
van Velden. J. 2021. PECS: Indigenous future thinking: an innovation-seeking review Episode (No.21) [Webvinar]. International Association for the study of the Commons (IASC).
van Vliet, N. 2018. “Bushmeat crisis” and “cultural imperialism” in wildlife management? Taking value orientations into account for a more sustainable and culturally acceptable wildmeat sector. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 6.
Yunkaporta, T. 2020. Sand talk: how indigenous thinking can save the world. Rural Society 29(3):219–220.
Whyte, K. 2017. Indigenous Climate Change Studies: Indigenizing Futures, Decolonizing the Anthropocene. English Language Notes 55(1), 153-162.
Consideration of local communities and indigenous peoples in national policy frameworks
Participation of local communities and indigenous peoples in national policy-making
Rights of indigenous peoples and self-determination
Engagement between indigenous and government parliaments
Considering and engaging with different ways of knowing, knowledge systems, and practices
Perspectives in Context
With these recommendations acknowledged and understood, how do they compare with reality, and what does good practice look like in different contexts?
During the In-session Dialogue of the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform, Pasang Dolam Sherpa sets out key elements of what is needed in the Nepalese context and what some challenges of good practice look like in Nepal and in Asia. She sets out that the policy basis is there, but that implementation is weak. Moreover, crucially, she highlights that policies are still based on national level data, thereby applying these on a local level is inhibited from the very start.
“When you create a national adaptation plan in the long run you need to understand the ground reality…how Indigenous Peoples, Local Communities, and women contributed… how their lives are attached to the resources.”
-Pasang Dolma Sherpa
The importance of achieving policies based on data that is sensitive to contexts, including local and national contexts, culture, language, and gender, is essential in creating substantial and meaningful climate adaptation and mitigation plans. Without this data not only are policies and plans flawed, but real acknowledgement and understanding of Indigenous Peoples’ Knowledge, IPLCS contribution to climate adaptation and their protection of biodiversity is incomplete and superficial.
Challenges to Good Practice
In order to implement good practice and actively create context and IPLC conscious policies and plans, the barriers and challenges that continue to hinder progress need to be overcome and considered. Sherpa raises the issue of language during her presentation, a barrier that is not limited to just the Nepalese context. For Indigenous Peoples, local languages have to be prioritised, forcing data collection, knowledge development and sharing to all be conducted in national languages or English is limiting and doesn’t create spaces for good practice or to realise wide and meaningful participation.
Moreover, certain practices that are generally accepted within the discourse and creation of climate policy are often camouflaged and not seen as barriers to good practice. These include ideas such as consultation of IPLCs, rather than ensuring consent for policies and initiatives. While consultation is a step towards good practice, consent prevents miscommunication and unconstructive policies. Furthermore, ensuring inclusivity and transparency when creating policies, spaces, and developing plans is essential in promoting trust, cross-border collaboration, and directly acknowledges the knowledge and value of IPLCs from the outset. As a final point, it is also important that these changes in narrative and breaking down of barriers need to occur on all levels, from local and community based action through to policymakers, stakeholders, and representatives in international spaces to ensure that substantial and meaningful climate action can flourish.
So what does climate policy look like when it works for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities? When national and local climate policy and adaptation plans work for and support IPLCs, they recognise the value and inherent importance of Indigenous Knowledge, not just for issues concerning IPLCs but for everyone, and recognise the need for Indigenous voices in decision making and policy development. IPLCs have further highlighted that in tandem, Indigenous governments or governance bodies should also still have their own climate policy, mitigation and adaptation plans. Climate issues are urgent and existential and those directly impacting IPLCs cannot wait for states to act for them, as is seen in developments such as the Inuit National Climate Strategy. Moreover, this takes into consideration the fact that not all state approaches to climate mitigation will be in the best interests of IPLCs, independent governance and policies allows for those issues. Furthermore, these ideas of consent and representation are founded in respecting IPLCs, their knowledge and their power in climate mitigation. Thus consent and representation need to be extended across all levels, from education and learning, to ensuring data use and collection is owned and consensually collected by IPLCs not co-opted and taken out of context. These ideas, among many others, pave the way for constructive and progressive climate adaptation and mitigation policies, creating the spaces and conversations for good practice to succeed.
Deforestation and degradation result in around 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Community-based management is considered one of the most successful approaches in climate change mitigation and adaptation.
What is community forestry?
Community forestry (CF) is “any situation which intimately involves local people in a forestry activity” according to the FAO. Generally, the local community will have significant input in the management and decision-making of the forest.
How does CF contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation?
Community forests can store (sequester) large amounts of carbon depending on the type of plant species present. They also help regulate weather patterns such as temperature and rainfall at local levels. This in turn reduces flash floods, landslides, drought, and forest fires because of reduced soil erosion and therefore being able to retain more water. The community feeling of responsibility and ownership over managing the forest results in reduced degradation and more willingness to protect the forest.
The Community Forestry Program in Nepal is seen as a successful model in climate change adaptation. CFs gained popularity in the 1970s and today there are almost 18,000 community forest user groups that manage 1.66 million ha of forest which is almost 9% of the total area of Nepal.
Organisations like CIPRED (Centre for Indigenous Peoples Research and Development) have been working with the Dura and other indigenous communities in Nepal to protect and promote traditional customary practices including sustainable forest management.
The forest areas in Bhimeshwor and Singati have shown to convert thin forest into dense forest by up to ~3.5% per year as well as non-forest area into forest by up to ~2% per year. This data was collected over 20 years of satellite and photographic images. These community forests have resulted in more efficient use of resources, reduced slash-and-burn agriculture and extreme weather events.
In Cameroon, community forestry began in 1992 alongside the new forest policy. In 2016 there were 182 CFs that covered 28,000 ha of forest. Unfortunately, Cameroon faced many challenges including conflict within CF members, marginalisation of local and indigenous communities, and illegal logging resulting in corruption.
No control for local and indigenous communities
Communities rarely initiated the process
Process is long, complex, and expensive
Difficulty with governance and revenue management
More support from NGOs, administration, and private sector
For collaborators not to act in communities place but allow them to work at their own pace
Increased capacity building and technical support e.g. facilities and equipment
State should reduce procedural delays and have community-appropriate funding schemes
Over half of Bolivia is forested and until the 1990s the state had ownership over all the forest land. Valuable forest products such as mahogany, Brazil nuts and rubber were commercially harvested by private elites. Concerns arose over the sustainability of this forest use and the call from local and indigenous groups to decentralize forest management led to major changes in Bolivia’s land and forest tenure systems. This included handing over forest management to municipal governments where local residents can be elected as well as giving indigenous peoples exclusive access to forest resources within their territories.
80% of forests remain under central government control and they continue to have the power to approve forest management plans for extractive use, although non-commercial use is not required. In 2002, 1 million ha of forest was approved for community forest management by indigenous communities, small logging firms and other local forest users.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a landmark document in securing the rights of Indigenous Peoples globally and offering a framework on how to ensure this. However, with 46 articles forming the Declaration, there is much left to be unpacked and understood.
Breaking down and honing in on articles allows for a greater and closer understanding of the substance and power the UNDRIP has. In line with LICCION’s work and focus, articles 18 and 19 can be looked at in a wider context.
Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institutions.
States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with Indigenous peoples through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent [FPIC] before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.
What do these Articles entail?
Article 18 focuses primarily on the idea of Indigenous People having a place at the table and a right to be involved in making decisions that impact their rights. It also seeks to encourage development of Indigenous led institutions that can further this agenda.
Article 19 interestingly highlights a foundational point of UNDRIP, honing in on the necessary consultation and consent of Indigenous People that States and Companies require before making decisions that impact them.
What power does UNDRIP hold?
In theory, in declaration form, there is little that is particularly inflammatory about these ideas, and was overall accepted in 2007 with a huge majority in the UN General Assembly. Yet, there were four votes against the Declaration: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States. As time has passed, these states have since altered their votes and support the declaration fully, with Indigenous Rights holding far more power and gaining wider attention and understanding than previously. To further look into how far UNDRIP has come and how the articles work in practice, it is worth examining three different cases.
In New Zealand, there is a long history between native Maori and settlers, and while structural issues and inequality remains unresolved, there is a general agenda and important status awarded to Maori issues at the present moment. In the context of Articles 18 and 19, Maori voting has an established history in New Zealand and has continued to evolve in order to ensure fairer and more equal protection of rights and a real chance for Maori advocacy. New Zealand’s Maori Seats within the government remain at 7 seats since 2002 in place of a separate Maori electoral system. This visibility and participation of Maori in the main Government as well as autonomy over community issues is key. Nanaia Mahuta is an icon and woman who has made history for Maori representation, being elected to Parliament in 2016 as the first woman with a moko kauae (sacred facial tattoo) and just last year became New Zealand’s first female foreign minister, making huge strides in Maori visibility and power on a national and international level.
In the case of the Orang Asli, Indigenous Peoples of Peninsular Malaysia, the legacy of colonialism lives on as many of the laws related to Orang Asli from the moment of Independence have not been changed or only slightly modified, thereby inheriting and perpetrating colonial methods and ideas. However, in recent years significant and landmark progress has occurred in ensuring the rights of Indigenous Peoples. This includes a Human Rights investigation into land right of IPLCs, and most recently, the Federal government taking legal action against State government on behalf of the Orang Asli with regards to land violation
While there are other factors at play here, political motives and public relations to say the least, that makes this far from a simply benevolent action on behalf of the Orang Asli, it still sets an important precedent that may make those in power think twice before making decisions concerning Indigenous Peoples without their consent, knowledge, or wellbeing in mind.
Furthermore, research has shown the extent to which human rights violations of IPLCs continues to be perpetrated, and groups seeking land rights and protection are still met with intimidation and violence. While the Government action is far from solving issues, and this does not erase past violations, it is a step towards greater statutory protection of IPLCs land. Moreover, in determining the legality of land rights, UNDRIP was one of the primary frameworks used to ensure Indigenous People’s right to their land.
Greater Visibility, Greater Power, Greater Lobby
In looking at the cases set out, there is a focus on Indigenous Peoples’ own governance and decision power and how that has interacted with State governments. While Indigenous People in many cases have set autonomous regional or local governance, state level power for IPLCs depends heavily on the respect and cooperation of the governments and settler states in power. Historically, this has been the source of countless issues and injustices, it is also why there is still far to go in achieving the UNDRIP goals so long as Indigenous People do not have the means to advocate and retain autonomy over their issues, land and communities.
Going forward, there is a lot of progress that must be made in terms of cooperation between States and Indigenous People to ensure openness about actions that will affect Indigenous People. Yet, this will also aid in strengthening Indigenous governance and community groups in order to allow for a greater lobby over issues of concern. This becomes increasingly important when looking at how Indigenous People will be seriously affected by climate change and natural disasters.
The three case studies highlighted above will all be heavily impacted by climate change. With rising sea levels, 13% of Malaysia’s total land area, within 5km of the coastline, will be severely threatened, the increasing melting of sea ice in the Arctic will lead to a devastating loss in biodiversity. In New Zealand, climate change will increase the number of natural disasters from droughts to major flooding risks.
UNDRIP allows for better governance and autonomy for Indigenous People, ultimately allowing for better decision making, understanding and knowledge in tackling climate change. LICCION is focused on this and driven to empower Indigenous Peoples ensuring that rights, lives, and ways of living are protected in the face of an existential climate crisis.
Bringing Together Indigenous Knowledge and Technology
So why bring together technology and Indigenous peoples’ knowledge?
As the world, research networks and finding solutions for climate change become increasingly internet dependent, bridging indigenous people’s knowledge and technology is essential in order to ensure future knowledge bases are made and maintained in a way that involves and highlights indigenous knowledge.
Doing so creates a fairer future in which indigenous people’s knowledge and the human rights of indigenous people have a voice, a priority, and a place where policy about them is being made.
Empowering those with essential knowledge is as much about creating a greater understanding of local climate issues as it is about ensuring equal platforms on which indigenous climate change data and knowledge is owned and of use to those who have created it and about whom it is refers to.
Locating LICCION within this field
LICCION, in building the Oblo network aims to help facilitate communities in recording their data and local indicators of climate change data. Oblo is a form of open source technology that provides a platform to document and visualise a range of data, but is being developed and co-designed with Indigenous people and local communities.
This collaborative factor of involving Indigenous people, researchers, and civil society experts ensures a level of ownership of the data as well as allowing for culturally specific features rather than a “one size fits all” approach. This is essential as it guarantees that data comes with a certain jurisdiction, dictated by those who the data is from and about, regarding who can see and use what is logged.
Locating ourselves within this knowledge
Understanding climate change and ways in which it is seriously impacting global ecosystems is essential, but moving away from prior methods of field work and outsider observation is needed to create a fairer knowledge economy. This therefore opens the space and possibility for a wider and more accurate picture of climate change to be painted.
Decolonising and recognising the lense in which we (the West) have largely understood climate change is a necessary first step. While climate change impacts everyone there is significant variation in terms of action, understanding, or the ways and rate in which it will impact our everyday environment.
Learning from and seeing indigenous people’s knowledge on the same value level not only moves away from outdated western led methods, but also aims to fill knowledge gaps that come from this geographical knowledge bias.
Facilitating local communities and indigenous groups to create updated and accurate knowledge about climate change in their jurisdiction will pave the path for more relevant, regionally appropriate policy that is led by those most affected.
Recording data allows greater evidence for local climate change and for communities to advocate for themselves and impact policy.
Education from a Non-Western Lense
Examples of groups working towards autonomous education and advocacy:
Placing indigenous people’s knowledge at the forefront strengthens understanding and creates the platforms on which issues can be accurately reported and solved on all levels.
Ensuring technology works hand in hand with indigenous people’s knowledge helps maintain that IK is relevant, necessary and respected as a source of data and information that can shape climate change research and policy globally.
For example, seeing the issues of environmental security in Australia, a far more comprehensive understanding is achieved when taking into account diverse population and diverse sources of indigenous people’s knowledge that are present.
Yet, it is important to still keep in centre frame the awareness that as researchers, readers, etc, our position is that of an outsider, and thus technology and indigenous people’s knowledge must work together respectfully ensuring that data is protected, sovereign and within the jurisdiction of those indigenous groups where such knowledge is sourced from.