The COP26, adaptation to climate change and Indigenous Peoples and local communities

Betsileo people facing unusual cold waves, Madagascar. Vincent Porcher

Adaptation, Loss and Damage

26 years after the first COP in 1995, the concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gases is higher than ever before – despite a little drop in CO2 emissions in 2019 due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. As a consequence, reaching the goal of the Paris Agreement of staying below +1.5ºC temperature increase compared to the pre-industrial level seems almost impossible and reaching the less ambitious goal of staying below 2ªC remains a challenge[1]. This outlook implies tremendous environmental changes in the near future and makes the development of adequate adaptive responses a necessity of the highest priority.

Indigenous Peoples and local communities with high dependencies on natural resources for their livelihoods (e.g., small-scale farmers and fishers) are especially among those who are and will continue to be strongly affected by climate change impacts. Indigenous Peoples and local communities have survived over centuries of harsh environmental conditions. Their knowledge, including world views, is a key pillar for the development of sustainable,   ecosystem-based, cost-efficient and socially acceptable adaptation measures.

The LICCI project specifically looks at how Indigenous Peoples and local communities deal with and respond to climate change impacts. Our research interests include understanding how local knowledge is applied to reduce climate change impacts, how traditional practices are modified by external influences, and assessing adaptation drivers, facilitators and barriers. Raising the attention towards the importance of Indigenous and local knowledge in climate change research is one of the main goals of the LICCI project. In recent years, the concerns and knowledge of Indigenous Peoples and local communities have received slightly more attention from international bodies and organizations. For example, in decision 5/CP.17 I. Framing national adaptation plans, paragraph 3, the COP17 agreed that enhanced action on adaptation should “follow a country-driven, gender-sensitive, participatory and fully transparent approach, taking into consideration vulnerable groups, communities and ecosystems […]” and “be based on and guided by the best available science and, as appropriate, traditional and indigenous knowledge, and by gender-sensitive approaches”. The program of the COP26 says: “An effective response must therefore put their voices [the voices of “communities on the front line”] front and centre” to “drive more inclusive locally-led adaptation action.”

It is now time that those words do not remain empty phrases but are taken seriously and turned into concrete actions. This not only means financing for economic loss and damage but also non-economic, such as loss of livelihoods, cultural practices or sacred sites. Adaptation to climate change requires bottom-up approaches, the recognition of local knowledge and a financing mechanism that does not depend on voluntary and self-determined donation targets but are compulsory for all main emitters. Furthermore, financing should be determined by the amount of produced greenhouse gases since the industrial revolution as a form of accountability towards industrialized countries with disproportionately higher emissions[2].

Anna Schlingmann

[1]                      According to the Emissions Gap report 2021 of the UNEP, four times higher ambitions in mitigation are currently needed to reach the 2º C goal and seven to reach the 1.5º C.

[2]                      According to the Emission Gap Report 2020 of the UNEP, over the last decades, the G20 members have accounted for 78% of the total greenhouse gas emissions (excluding land-use change).