Mr. Eliott Harris Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and Chief Economist

Special Theme: “Indigenous Peoples’ Traditional Knowledge, Generation, Transmission And Protection”

Distinguished Chairperson,
Members of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to participate in the opening of this discussion on Indigenous Peoples’ Traditional Knowledge: Generation, Transmission and Protection, the special theme for this year’s Forum session.

Indigenous peoples are often the first to face the direct consequences of climate change.  This is due to their dependence upon, and close relationship with the environment and its resources. Climate change exacerbates the difficulties already faced by indigenous peoples – these include political and economic marginalization, loss of lands, territories and livelihoods, as well as displacement and dispossession.

The close relationship of indigenous peoples to nature places them well to see how the environment around them is changing, and to understand how best to adapt to these changes.

There is increasing recognition of the unique value of indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge and its potential to contribute to addressing some of the most significant challenges faced today, including achieving sustainable development, adapting to climate change, managing conservation areas, and helping in the development of new technologies and medicines.  And in this context, we are very pleased that indigenous peoples also participate at the Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals, as they do at other UN fora.

Indigenous peoples must be, and will be, a part of the solution.


On 21 March 2019, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the entry into force of the UNFCCC. A quarter of a century has passed and yet, as the United Nations Executive Secretary on Climate Change stated, “While we’ve made enormous progress in 25 years, the world is still running behind climate change. Today, the urgency to address climate change has never been greater.”

It is high time that indigenous people take part in the important discussions on the climate. The Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform established at the Conference of Parties in Katowice, December 2018, is a step forward in ensuring indigenous peoples have an opportunity to share their experiences and lessons learned, to advance creative solutions to our pressing challenges.

To boost ambition and accelerate actions to implement the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres will host the 2019 Climate Action Summit on 23 September. The Summit will showcase national political ambitions and movements and build up the momentum needed to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.

The climate summit will also carry important results to the 25th session of the Conference of the Parties in Santiago in December 2019.

The United Nations has created valuable tools and frameworks to support these efforts.  The 2015 system-wide action plan to achieve the ends of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, underlines the principle of environmental sustainability to ensure that development meets the needs of the current generation, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The system wide action plan considers this intergenerational imperative by ensuring recognition of the close link between environmental factors on the one hand, and the realization of the rights and wellbeing of indigenous peoples, on the other. It is an important tool for indigenous peoples, Member States and agencies to work together to meet the challenges ahead. Using traditional knowledge and the most advanced science and technologies, we can deliver progress for those who are furthest behind, first.

We need concrete actions. Indigenous peoples need to be at the table when discussions are held, and decisions are taken.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Distinguished delegates,

Distinguished Chairperson and Members of the Forum,

I am truly pleased to see all of you here, supporting the important agenda in front of us. Consider DESA your partner in meeting the challenges ahead and finding sustainable solutions.

I wish you all a successful and productive discussion on this important theme and a fruitful session of the Permanent Forum.

Thank you.

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