Indigenous people need support to reinforce resilience against climate change – UNESCO

Cacique Raoni, of the Mato Grosso in Brazil, speaks at the opening of the resilience in a time of uncertainty conference. Photo: UNESCO/P. Chiang-Joo

27 November 2015 – Building resilience “is deeply rooted in [the] lifestyles and social solidarity” of the more than 400 million indigenous people – from the Samis of northern Europe, Berbers in Morocco to Vanuatu communities in the Pacific – who are feeling the adverse effects of climate change even they contribute little to its causes, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“Indigenous peoples suffer from the impacts of climate change, but they are not passive victims,” said Flavia Schlegel, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences, which is hosting at its headquarters in Paris a two-day conference, ‘Resilience in a time of uncertainty: Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change.’

“They respond, innovate and adapt to this changing context, and this source of resilience is deeply rooted in their lifestyles and social solidarity,” Ms. Schlegal told the scientists, decision makers and indigenous peoples to share their knowledge and solutions, as governments are preparing a coherent response to the climate crisis in Paris at the UN climate change conference – known as COP21 – which kicks off Monday, 30 November.

In a press release, UNESCO said “indigenous peoples need support to reinforce their resilience.”

According to the agency, more than 400 million of the world’s indigenous peoples live in territories that are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as the Samis of northern Europe, Berbers living in the High Atlas in Morocco, indigenous villagers in Alaska, or Vanuatu communities in the Pacific Ocean.

The objective of the conference that opened Thursday “is to understand the contributions that diverse knowledge systems, such as indigenous knowledge, can make to reinforce the climate change knowledge base, and to highlight practical community-based solutions and initiatives while reinforcing the links between cultural diversity and the sustainability of the global environment,” according to UNESCO.

“The voices of indigenous peoples, so often side-lined in climate change debates, rang clearly from the podium at the opening of an international conference focusing on reinforcing resilience,” the organization said.

A UN independent human rights expert said climate change is threatening their way of life.

“It has been shown that decisions, policies and actions undertaken by the majority, even if well-intended, may prove inadequate, ill-adapted, and even inappropriate simply because decision-makers do not understand nor know the aspirations, rights and capacities of indigenous peoples,” said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Ms. Tauli-Corpuz called for the “successful adaptation and resilience achieved through processes that are community-driven, sensitive to local histories, ecologies and priorities.”


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