Indigenous people must be part of the solution to climate change […]. The important value of [traditional] knowledge simply cannot—and must not—be understated. [Indigenous people] are also essential in finding solutions today and in the future...
Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC
The world’s climate is in turmoil. Extensive bushfires in Australia causing massive destruction to lives (both animal and human), property and the environment have attracted global media attention for months. In the Arctic, there are haunting images of polar bears starving as their natural habitats disappear due to rising waters and melting ice caps, and in Kenya, changing patterns of ocean circulation have created conditions for locusts to ravage pastures. These extreme events point to a stark reality: our climate is changing because of our actions, with serious implications for humanity, ecosystems and global biodiversity.
A key challenge of our time
Between 1998 and 2017, climate-related disasters claimed an estimated 1.3 million lives, causing direct economic losses of around USD 3 trillion. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) estimates that by 2050 global temperature extremes will breach today’s levels by 2°C with temperatures over the Arctic Ocean rising by 3 to 5°C. At current trends, temperatures in tropical West African and the Sahel are expected to rise by 4 to 6°C by the end of the century. Among other effects, increasing temperatures will cause fluctuations in rainfall with consequences for global food security, health, water resources and biodiversity. We cannot ignore climate change. It is threatening the sustainability of our environment, the irreplaceable haven where humanity can thrive.
The Brundtland Commission
More than three decades ago, the Brundtland Commission coined the term “sustainable development,” which it defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In its 1987 report, “Our Common Future,” the Commission explored in detail, the relationship between human development and the environment, noting the inseparable nature of “the environment” (where we live) and “development” (what we do to improve our lot within that abode). It also noted the unsustainable nature of many of the development paths of industrialized countries whose decisions, given their political and economic power, would “have a profound effect upon the ability of all peoples to sustain human progress for generations to come.”
Engaging with Indigenous peoples to benefit from their knowledge, while respecting their world view and ensuring the sustainability of their way of life, must remain central to global responses to climate change. (Photo: parkerphotography / Alamy Stock Photo)
The Brundtland Commission similarly warned that, if unchecked, the emissions arising from human development – in particular, industrialization, and rising fossil-fuel usage – would over time provoke higher median global temperatures, altered weather conditions and irreversible consequences for our future.
Engaging Indigenous communities: a must
As the global community focuses on ways to combat the effects of climate change and to transition to a low-carbon future, the impact on Indigenous peoples must not be overlooked for at least three reasons.
Recent extreme environmental events point to a stark reality: our climate is changing because of our actions, with serious implications for humanity, ecosystems and global biodiversity. (Photo: Jennifer Watson / iStock / Getty Images Plus)
First, Indigenous peoples are dependent on local biodiversity...