Most Climate-vulnerable  Indigenous Peoples
Climate Emergency Institute

It is common knowledge as recognized for a great many years by the media and the ​IPCC assessments, that certain countries such as those in Africa and the Small Island States ​are particularly vulnerable ​to ​global climate ​change. They will suffer more from climate
​change ​impacts before the rest of ​the world.

Another most vulnerable population is Indigenous peoples globally and the Arctic
​Inuit in particular.

Climate change and Indigenous peoples

​Vulnerability and the Voice of Indigenous Peoples through the Lens of Climate
​Change Policy 
Book chapter Jill Leness, 2017
As the plight of Indigenous peoples and the role they may play in combating
​climate change ​are rarely considered in public discourses on climate change,
​ the United Nations Permanent ​Forum on Indigenous Issues, through its Secretariat
​ and its upcoming seventh session,  ​is well placed to support indigenous peoples
​in putting a “human face” on this issue.

The effects of climate change on Indigenous peoples

Indigenous peoples are among the first to face the direct consequences of climate change, owing to their dependence upon, and close relationship with the environment and its resources. Climate change exacerbates the difficulties already faced by
​vulnerable Indigenous communities, including political and economic marginalization, ​loss of land and resources, human rights violations, discrimination and unemployment.
​Examples include:

In the high altitude regions of the Himalayas, glacial melts affecting hundreds of
​millions of rural dwellers who depend on the seasonal flow of water is resulting in
​more water in the short term, but less in the long run as glaciers and snow cover shrink.

• In the Amazon, the effects of climate change include deforestation and forest
​fragmentation, and consequently, more carbon released into the atmosphere
​exacerbating and creating further changes.

Droughts in 2005 resulted in fires in the western Amazon region. This is likely to occur
​again as rainforest is replaced by savannas, thus having a huge affect on the livelihoods
​ of the indigenous peoples in the region.

• Indigenous peoples in the Arctic region depend on hunting for polar bears, walrus, seals and caribou, herding reindeer, fishing and gathering, not only for food to support the local economy, but also as the basis for their cultural and social identity. Some of the concerns facing indigenous peoples there include the change in species and availability of traditional
​food sources, perceived reduction in weather predictions and the safety of traveling in changing ice and weather conditions, posing serious
​challenges to human health and food security. 

• In Finland, Norway and Sweden, rain and mild weather during the winter season often prevents reindeer from accessing lichen, which ​is a vital food source. This has caused massive loss of reindeer, which are vital to the culture, subsistence and economy of Saami communities.
​Reindeer herders must, as a result, feed their herds with fodder, which is expensive and not economically viable in the long term.

Rising temperatures, dune expansion, increased wind speeds, and loss of vegetation are negatively impacting traditional cattle and goat farming practices of indigenous peoples in Africa’s Kalahari Basin, who must now live around government-drilled bores in order to access water and depend on government support for their survival

(IPCC 2001 WG2 SPM) Climate change poses threats and dangers to the survival of indigenous communities worldwide, even though Indigenous peoples contribute little to greenhouse emissions. In fact, indigenous peoples are vital to, and active in, the many ecosystems that inhabit their lands and territories, and may therefore help enhance the resilience of these ecosystems. In addition, Indigenous peoples interpret and react to the impacts of climate change in creative ways, drawing on traditional knowledge and other technologies to find solutions which may help society at large to cope with impending changes. Examples include:

Indigenous peoples who choose or are forced to migrate away from their traditional lands often face double discrimination as both migrants and as Indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples may be more vulnerable to irregular migration such as trafficking and smuggling, owing to sudden displacement by a climactic event, limited legal migration options and limited opportunities to make informed choices. Deforestation, particularly in developing countries, is pushing indigenous families to migrate to cities for economic reasons, often ending up in urban slums. 

​​Climate change impacts in polar regions are expected to be large and rapid, including reduction in sea-ice extent and thickness and degradation of permafrost. Adverse changes in seasonal river flows, floods and droughts, food security, fisheries, health effects, and loss of biodiversity are among the major regional vulnerabilities and concerns of Africa, Latin America, and Asia where adaptation opportunities are generally low. Even in regions with higher adaptive capacity, such as North America and Australia and New Zealand, there are vulnerable communities, such as indigenous peoples, and the possibility of adaptation of ecosystems is very limited. IPCC AR5 2014 WG2 SPM
IPCC AR5 2014 WG 2 TS  ​​Livelihoods and lifestyles of indigenous peoples, pastoralists, and fisherfolk, often dependent on natural resources, are highly​ sensitive to climate change and climate change policies, ​especially​ those that marginalize their knowledge, values, and activities

​Livelihoods of Indigenous peoples in the Arctic have been altered ​by climate change, through impacts on food security and traditional  ​and cultural values 
​There is emerging evidence ​of climate change impacts ​on livelihoods of Indigenous people in ​other regions.

Throughout the 21st century, climate change impacts will slow down economic growth and poverty reduction, further erode food security, and trigger new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger (medium confidence). Climate change will exacerbate poverty in low and lower- middle income countries, including high mountain states, countries at risk from sea-level rise, and countries with Indigenous peoples, and create new poverty pockets in upper-middle- to high-income countries in which inequality is increasing. In urban and rural areas, wage-labor-dependent poor households that are net buyers of food will be particularly affected due to food price increases, including in regions with high food insecurity and high inequality

Indigenous peoples in both Australia and New Zealand have higher than average exposure to climate change due to a heavy reliance on climate-sensitive primary industries and strong social connections to the natural environment, and face additional constraints to adaptation

Already, accelerated rates of change in permafrost thaw, loss of coastal sea ice, sea-level rise, and increased intensity of weather extremes are forcing relocation of some indigenous communities in Alaska (high confidence).

 Indigenous, local, and traditional forms of knowledge are a major resource for adapting to climate change (robust evidence, high agreement). Natural resource dependent communities, including indigenous peoples, have a long history of adapting to highly variable and changing social and ecological conditions. But the salience of indigenous, local, and traditional knowledge will be challenged by climate change impacts. Such forms of knowledge are often neglected in policy and research, and their mutual recognition and integration with scientific knowledge will increase the effectiveness of adaptation.

Mitigation efforts focused on land acquisition for biofuel production show preliminary negative impacts for the poor in many low and middle- income countries, and particularly for indigenous people and (women) smallholders.

Loss of common-pool resources, sense of place, and identity, especially among Indigenous populations in rural coastal zones.

IPCC 2014 AR5 WG2 TS​ .  Polar Regions (indigenous references)
The physical, biological and socio-economic impacts of climate change in the Arctic have to be seen in the context of often interconnected factors that include not only environmental changes caused by drivers other than climate change but also demography, culture and economic development. Climate change has compounded some of the existing vulnerabilities caused by these other factors (high confidence);
For example, food security for many indigenous and rural residents in the Arctic is being impacted by climate change and in combination with globalization and resource development projected to increase significantly in the future

In the future, trends in Polar Regions of populations of marine mammals, fish and birds will be a complex response to multiple stressors and indirect effects (high confidence). Already, accelerated rates of change in permafrost thaw, loss of coastal sea ice, sea level rise and increased weather intensity are forcing relocation of some indigenous communities in Alaska (high confidence).

Impacts on the health and well-being of Arctic residents from climate change are significant and projected to increase – especially for many indigenous peoples (high confidence).

Changing river and sea ice conditions affect the safety of travel for indigenous populations especially, and inhibit access to critical hunting, herding and fishing areas
The impacts of climate change on food security and basic nutrition are critical to human health because subsistence foods from the local environment provide Arctic residents, especially, indigenous peoples, with unique cultural and economic benefits necessary to well-being and contribute a significant proportion of daily requirements of nutrition, vitamins and essential elements to the diet. However, climate change is already an important threat due to the decrease in predictability of weather patterns, low water levels and streams, timing of snow, ice extent and stability, impacting the opportunities for successful hunting, gathering, fishing and access to food sources and increasing the probability of accidents

Populations of marine and land mammals, fish and water fowl are also being reduced or displaced, thus, reducing the traditional food supply Traditional food preservation methods such as drying of fish and meat, fermentation, and ice cellar storage are being compromised by warming temperatures, thus further reducing food available to the community For example, food contamination caused by thawing of permafrost “ice cellars” is occurring and increasingly wet conditions make it harder to dry food for storage Indigenous people increasingly have to abandon their semi-nomadic lifestyles, limiting their overall flexibility to access traditional foods from more distant locations These reductions in the availability of traditional foods plus general globalization pressures are forcing indigenous communities to increasingly depend upon expensive, non-traditional and often less healthy western foods, increasing the rates of modern diseases associated with processed food and its packaging, such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, dental cavities, and obesity
It is now well-documented that the many climate-related impacts on Arctic communities are causing significant psychological and mental distress and anxiety among residents. For example, changes in the physical environment (e.g., through thawing permafrost and erosion) which may lead to forced or voluntary relocation of residents out of their villages or loss of traditional subsistence species are causing mental health impacts among Indigenous and other vulnerable, isolated populations

Special concern has been expressed by many communities about the unusually high and increasing numbers of suicides in the Arctic especially among indigenous youth

Indigenous populations in the Arctic – the original Native inhabitants of the region – are considered especially vulnerable to climate change, due to their close relationship with the environment and its natural resources for physical, social, and cultural well-being Arctic indigenous peoples are estimated to number between 400,000 and 1.3 million

According to the 2010 census data, there are 68,3 thousand Indigenous people living in the Russian Arctic. These Arctic residents depend heavily on the region’s terrestrial, marine and freshwater renewable resources, including fish, mammals, birds, and plants; however, the ability of indigenous peoples to maintain traditional livelihoods such as hunting, harvesting, and herding is increasingly being threatened by the unprecedented rate of climate change In habitats across the Arctic, climate changes are affecting these livelihoods through decreased sea ice thickness and extent, less predictable weather, severe storms, sea level rise, changing seasonal melt/freeze-up of rivers and lakes, changes in snow type and timing, increasing shrub growth, permafrost thaw, and storm-related erosion which, in turn, are causing such severe loss of land in some regions that a number of Alaskan coastal villages are having to relocate entire communities

In addressing these climate impacts, indigenous communities must at the same time consider multiple other stressors such as resource development (oil and gas, mining), pollution, changes in land use policies, changing forms of governance, and the prevalence in many indigenous communities of poverty, marginalization, and resulting health disparities

Climatic warming is accelerating access to northern lands for development Yamal in Western Siberia has approximately 90 % of Russia’s gas reserves, but at the same time represents the largest area of reindeer herding in the world Development activities to obtain these resources would shrink the grazing lands, and have been characterized as one of the major human activities in the Arctic contributing to loss of “available room for adaptation” for reindeer husbandry Sharp increases in future oil and gas and other resource development in the Russian North and other Arctic regions is anticipated - along with associated infrastructure, pollution, and other by products of development – which will reduce the availability of pasturelands for reindeer and indigenous communities

Hunting, gathering, herding, and fishing for subsistence, as well as commercial fishing, all play an important role in the mixed cash-subsistence economies. In the early 1990s – initially in western Canada, and later elsewhere - indigenous communities started reporting climate change impacts. According to some herders, whalers and walrus hunters non-predictable conditions resulting from more frequent occurrence of unusual weather events are the main effect of recent warming. The Inuit and Saami have expressed strong concern about the effects of climate warming on their livelihoods For the Inuit, the issues revolve around sea ice conditions, such as later freeze-up in autumn, earlier melt-out and faster sea ice retreat in spring, and thinner, less predictable ice in general Diminished sea ice translates into more difficult access for hunting marine mammals, and greater risk for the long-term viability of subsistence species such as polar bear populations. Most Inuit communities depend to some extent on marine mammals for nutritional and cultural reasons, and many benefit economically from polar bear and narwhal hunting. A reduction in these resources represents a potentially significant economic loss the economic viability of reindeer herding is threatened by competition with other land users coupled with strict agricultural norms Reindeer herders are concerned that more extreme weather may exacerbate this situation.

Climate change is affecting reindeer herding communities through greater variability in snow melt/freeze, ice, weather, winds, temperatures and precipitation, which, in turn are affecting snow quality and quantity – the most critical environmental variables for reindeer sustainability. Increasing temperature variations in wintertime, with temperatures rising above freezing with rain, followed by refreezing (“rain-on-snow” conditions), are becoming more frequent, forming ice layers in the snow which then block the animals’ access to their forage and subsequent starvation.

North America IPCC 2014 WG2 Among the most vulnerable are Indigenous peoples due to their complex relationship with their ancestral lands and higher reliance on subsistence economies, and those urban centers where high concentrations of populations and economic activities in risk-prone areas combine with several socio-economic and environmental sources of vulnerability (high confidence)

Indigenous peoples are at higher risk from wildfire

Agriculture and Food Security IPCC 2014 WG2 Projected declines in global agricultural productivity have implications for food security among North Americans.
Indigenous peoples are highly vulnerable due to high reliance on subsistence

Many Indigenous communities are isolated, raising the costs and limiting the diversity of imported food, fuel and other supplies, rendering the ability to engage in subsistence harvesting especially critical for both cultural and livelihood wellbeing
Many Indigenous peoples also maintain strong cultural attachment to ancestral lands, and thus are especially sensitive to declines in the ability of that land to sustain their livelihoods and cultural wellbeing
Among the most vulnerable are indigenous peoples due to their complex relationship with their ancestral lands and higher reliance on subsistence economies, and those urban centers where high concentrations of populations and economic activities in risk-prone areas combine with several socio-economic and environmental sources of vulnerability (high confidence)

Responding (or not)  to global climate Change
Policy commitment

The 2012 Paris Agreement is now the most crucial item for the survival  ​of vulnerable ​indigenous populations. Paris and its May 2016 Update by the UN Climate ​Secretariat projects that national emissions targets will lead to a substantial emissions  ​INCREASE ​in 2030. This leads to a degree global climate disruption deadly to most wild
​species (IPCC 2014 AR5).​ The more important national energy policy plans puts policy ​commitment even higher. ​None of this has been cited in legal cases (that can be found). 

The 2104 IPCC 5th assessment projects devastating impacts on wild life, which  has not been cited in any indigenous legal cases. ​

Climate system Commitment. ​Another crucial aspect of the climate change  ​science is the degree of already committed (locked in) climate change due to ​climate system inertia. The IPCC 2014 AR5 put this at 2.0C and more. ​​

This 2016 Inuit statement is instructive Inuit Priorities for Canada's Climate Strategy. ​​

This is documented by the 2014 IPCC AR5 -mainly with respect to the Arctic
Indigenous people (extracts IPCC AR5). ​​​

​See also ​2005 Inuit Petition Inter-American Commission On Human Rights To Oppose Climate Change Caused By The United States Of America. 

This 2011 D. Anton legal paper covers the result and the ​​background of the Inuit claim
against the US. ​Climate Change and Human​ Rights Case Study

The Public Trust Doctrine (following paper) has been used successfully in US courts by Our Childrens
Trust.​​​ Climate Change, the United States, and the Impacts of Arctic Melting:
​A Case Study in the Need for Enforceable International Environmental Human
Rights 2007 Randall S. Abate 

See also from the UN Indigenous Peoples in the Arctic Region Fact sheet​

​​This 2014 legal paper argues that 'Canada’s climate change policies can be challenged as
​infringements of the section 7 Charter right to security of the person of Canada’s most northerly
​Aboriginal peoples. Second, they argue that the impact of ​insufficient carbon emissions regulation
​on Aboriginal peoples may violate section 35 of the  Constitution Act, 1982, which affirms the
​rights of Canadian Aboriginal peoples. Although the proposed litigation strategies face a number
​of challenges, the issues are justiciable. Furthermore, ​if one of these claims proceeded to trial,
​the government would be called upon to defend and n​justify its ongoing failure to reduce
​Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. 
​Aboriginal Peoples and Legal Challenges to Canadian Climate Change Policy​
Sniderman ​2014

​​​Worldwide Indigenous populations still want to follow their traditional hunter gatherer small holder  ​way of life and so depend on ​healthy ecosystems and wild species populations ​for food and spiritual traditions. As documented in this site under ​Ecosystems wild life will be decimated by already unavoidable  climate change. ​

The Indigenous population vulnerability to climate change is documented in IPCC 2014  ​the AR5.

​​Climate change additional degradation of ​ecosystems is hardly adaptable, ​and so ​​the climate change impacts to the Indigenous people are hardly ​adaptable​.  ​

The global Indigenous youth caucus in their proposals towards the 2014 World ​Conference on Indigenous Peoples included strong statements in their rights to be able to live according their traditional spiritual beliefs and values, and they  ​made strong statements specifically on climate change.

​​Global Indigenous Youth Caucus Declaration on the World Conference on
​Indigenous Peoples 2014 The GIYC Preparatory meeting in Inari, Finland  April 9-11, 2013​

​Climate change relevant clauses
10. Recommend all States to take positive measures to secure Indigenous Peoples’ right to freely  participate in State political institutions at all levels, and not to be excluded from other fora due to engagement in Indigenous politics.
​13. Reaffirm that all States shall have Indigenous representatives selected via Indigenous Peoples’ own procedures and processes to define, design and deliver Indigenous policies.
19. Affirm that issues of Indigenous youth identity are inherently linked to, and strengthened by, Indigenous language and traditional knowledge, livelihoods, lands and territories, handicrafts, family structures, and belief systems, as well as in their contemporary forms,
29. Affirm the inherent right of Indigenous youth to their land,
30. Reaffirm the traditional livelihoods, lands and territories as a prerequisite for existence of Indigenous Peoples,​
34. Urge all States to acknowledge Indigenous Peoples’ right to land and implement necessary protective legislation without further delay in order to enable Indigenous youth to participate actively in their traditional livelihoods now and in the future.
35. Recommend that all States promote self-determination of Indigenous Peoples, particularly through the principle of free, prior and informed consent regarding any kind of encroachment to Indigenous lands and resources and thus ensuring the transfer of customs, belief systems, values and traditional knowledge from generation to generation in order to protect, maintain and evolve Indigenous cultures, identities and languages for Indigenous youth.
36. Call on all States and UN agencies to take effective measures to combat and minimize the effects of climate change
​empower Indigenous youth and communities to protect and manage their environment, territories and resources and further build Indigenous youth capacity on sustainable development practices based on traditional knowledge and relationship with the land to provide economic benefits​.
44. Express concern that the current environmental studies only reflect the environmental impact of nature, and a certain degree of social impact, but fail to reflect the cultural values of Indigenous communities,
45. Express further concern of tension between contemporary economic development, including tension caused by multinational corporation investment interests, and Indigenous perspectives and values,​

Climate Action Network International position June 2014​​​
Plan to limit warming to 1.5C​​​
​​Emissions should decline from 2015
By 2050 all fossil fuel energy should be replaced by clean energy emitting no carbon.

CO2 emissions will not decline​​ unless the large government subsidies paid to fossil fuel energy corporations to encourage them to extract more fossil fuels is eliminated in short order. ​​ 

This is the position of Indigenous peoples ​​in past civil society climate declarations and should be on the ​agenda of the of UN Conferences on Indigenous Peoples.

There is no agreement or plan to cut back emissions
All energy plans are to keep​ the world dependent on fossil fuels, increasing fossil fuel combustion.
To allow global temperature and ocean  acidification to stabilize (stop increasing completely) we must stop      fossil fuel carbon emissions (zero carbon).  ​​​
Global greenhouse gas emissions ​are still increasing
We are locked in to a global warming of 1.5C by today`s greenhouse gas concentrations. ​
To limit warming to 2C ​emissions must be declining by 2020 (according to the IPCC AR5 RCP2.6 scenario).. ​
o Large proportion of species are ​at increased extinction risk from all but lowest level of warming (IPCC AR5)
This is in addition to today's rapid extinction from direct habitat loss​ - we are losing species at 1000X the natural background rate.  

​​​As recorded in IPCC assessments over many years ​​​Indigenous peoples are a most climate change vulnerable ​populations worldwide, and they will have little if any capacity for adaptation (IPCC AR5).

All continents and all oceans ​​are being impacted by global climate change (IPCCAR5)

Already committed (locked in) global climate change will have devastating impacts on indigenous peoples. 

​​Without a rapid emergency response cutting emissions, ecosystems and wildlife will be devastated with little to no capacity for adaptation (IPCC AR5).

Indigenous peoples, planetary ecosystems and species are impacted from 1.0C and severely impacted at 2.0C (IPCC AR5). Some indigenous peoples are already being impacted by climate change. 

About 300 to 370 million people belong to the world’s indigenous groups (World Bank – UNPFII)​
Indigenous peoples constitute about 5% of the world’s population yet account for about 15% of the world’s poor (IFAD).​

​​Indigenous Peoples’ Global Summit on Climate Change Anchorage 2009 
​The Anchorage Declaration
A statement by indigenous representatives from around the world describes ‘Mother Earth (as) no longer in a period of climate change, but climate crisis.’
The statement, known as the Anchorage Declaration, was released after indigenous people from the Arctic, North America, Asia, the Pacific, Latin America, Africa, the Caribbean and Russia met in Anchorage, Alaska for the ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Global Summit on Climate Change’.​
​Calls for Action
1.  ... a binding emissions reduction target for developed countries of 95% by 2050. We further call for a just transition to decentralized renewable energy economies, sources and systems owned and controlled by our local communities to achieve energy security and sovereignty.
​We call for ... the  phase out of fossil fuels, 

From the 2009 UN The State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples
The situation of indigenous peoples in many parts of the world continues to be critical: indigenous peoples face systemic discrimination and exclusion from political and economic power; they continue to be over-represented among the poorest, the illiterate, the destitute; they are displaced by wars and environmental disasters; the weapon of rape and sexual humiliation is also turned against indigenous women for the ethnic cleansing and demoralization of indigenous communities; indigenous peoples are dispossessed of their ancestral lands and deprived of their resources for survival, both physical and cultural; they are even robbed of their very right to life.
In more modern versions of market exploitation, indigenous peoples see their traditional knowledge and cultural expressions marketed and patented without their consent or participation. Of the some 7,000 languages today, it is estimated that more than 4,000 are spoken by indigenous peoples. Language specialists predict that up to 90 per cent of the world’s languages are likely to become extinct or threatened with extinction by the end of the century.
This statistic illustrates the grave danger faced by indigenous peoples

Lyon, France September 4-6, 2000

We, the Indigenous Peoples, have historically played an active role in the conservation of eco-systems crucial to the prevention of climate change such as forests, wetlands and coastal and marine areas. Long ago, our sciences foretold of the severe impacts of Western "development" models based on indiscriminate clear-cutting, oil exploitation, mining, carbon-emitting industries, permanent organic pollutants and the insatiable consumption of the industrialized countries. Today, these unsustainable models threaten the very life of Mother Earth and the lives of all of us who are her children.

The scientists of Western society have dismissed us as sentimental and superstitious and accused us of being an obstacle to development. Paradoxically, those that previously turned deaf ears to our warnings, now are dismayed because their own model of "development' endangers our Mother Earth.

At long last, the international community has been forced to recognize that climate change threatens the very survival of humanity. Despite the recognition of our role in preventing global warming, when it comes time to sign international conventions like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, once again, our right to participate in national and international discussions that directly affect our Peoples and territories is denied.

Our active opposition to oil exploration, logging and mining helps prevent the accelerated deterioration of the climate. Nonetheless, our territories have been handed over to national and multinational corporations which exploit our natural resources in an indiscriminate and unsustainable fashion.

Any decision or action that the Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) or recommendations to other organs must include our full and effective participation. Our efforts to maintain the integrity of Mother Earth has been recognized by the United Nations and our participation includes and established by: ​

The odd thing is that global climate change ​​was not on the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples agenda, and the Indigenous peoples have asked but never been given representation in the International  climate change negotiations under the 1992 UN climate convention (UNFCCC).  

​For many years Indigenous peoples have been recognized as amongst the most climate change populations, for many reasons (see extracts below). Because of this and because they are amongst the populations who have contributed the least to global climate change, they deserve and have a right to a special place in climate change decision making, but they remain outside of the decision making processes.

They should and easily could have nation state status representation in the UNFCCC (climate convention)  climate negotiations. They should and could have representation on the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). We would all benefit from indigenous expert representation on the science panel and indigenous policy representation on the policy maker panel.  

UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Climate change threatens very existence of indigenous peoples. For many indigenous peoples, climate change is already a reality, and they are increasingly realising that climate change is clearly not just an environmental issue, but one with severe socioeconomic implications. The World Bank also sees climate change as having the potential to hamper achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, including those on poverty eradication, child mortality, combating malaria and other diseases, as well as environmental sustainability. For many indigenous peoples, climate change is a potential threat to their very existence and a major issue of human rights and equity.

Backgrounder Climate change and Indigenous peoples

Additional information

For more information on the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, please visit:

Cochabamba Bolivia Peoples Climate Change Conference
April 30, 2010 . Indigenous Peoples, Working Groups  

Mother Earth can live without us, but we can’t live without her.

We, the Indigenous Peoples, nations and organizations from all over the world, gathered at the World Peoples’ Cochabamba, Bolivia, after extensive discussions, express the following: 

To confront climate change, humanity must reconnect with its origins. There are an estimated 370 million Indigenous peoples throughout the world, distributed in perhaps 5,000 communities scattered across more than 70 countries, all of which have maintained different ways of life in harmony with nature.
The only way we can contribute to the future of humanity and our planet is through recuperating our origins, strengthening our cultural practices and our forms of collective organization for the sustainable use and management of natural resources, guaranteeing the rights of Indigenous peoples, and promoting traditional knowledge and notions about living in harmony with Mother Earth.
This Working group is a space in which to channel the voices, wisdom, and reclamation of our origins that are present today in Indigenous and First Nations peoples. We aim to encourage and promote Indigenous visions, practices, and relationships of harmony with nature, and to share proposals regarding climate change and the defense of Mother Earth.
Indigenous Peoples
Objective of the Group in Terms of Debate and Product
• Retrieve and revalidate our indigenous and native roots to confront climate change issues and contribute to restoring harmony with nature.
• To agree on measures for ensuring the rights of indigenous peoples in the negotiations, policies and measures to face climate change.
Main topics to be discussed by the group
• What are the visions, lifestyles and traditional knowledge that we must recover and reevaluate from our indigenous origin to address climate change issues?
• What measures are necessary to ensure the rights of indigenous peoples in negotiations and climate change policies?
• In 1989 the General Conference of the International Labor Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, adopted the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention referred to guarantee their respect for its integrity, as collective subject of rights.
The ILO 169 Convention defines that are “regarded as indigenous on account of their descent from populations which inhabited the country, or a geographical region to which the country belongs, at the time of conquest or colonization or the establishment of present state boundaries and that, irrespective of their legal status, retain some or all of their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions, or part thereof.”
This recognizes labor rights, human and fundamental freedom of indigenous and tribal peoples, values, social practices, cultural, religious and spiritual.
• On December 21, 1993 the UN Resolution 48/163 proclaimed the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People. This decade tries to strengthen international cooperation for the problems the people will suffer with respect to their human rights, environment, development, education and health. Beginning with this decade, the International Day of Indigenous People is observed every August 9th. The second decade is declared by Resolution 59/175 in 2004.
• By means of Resolution 2000/22, on July 28thth, 2000 the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations establishes a Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The forum was created as a subsidiary body of ECOSOC, and advisory body to review topics related to economic and social development, culture, environment, education, health, human rights. indigenas /2004/res_2000_22.html
• From October 28 – 30 of 2000, 36 Indigenous Organizations from throughout the Americas participated in the Continental Indigenous Summit. In this meeting they issued the Teotihuacan Declaration, which calls for the unity of all indigenous peoples to strengthen organization and solidarity to safeguard the rights of our peoples and future generations. primera/teotihuacan.html
• On September 13th, 2007 The General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
• In the World Summit of Indigenous Peoples on Climate Change from April 20 to the 24 of 2009, in Alaska, the Anchorage Declaration was adopted in which a set of proposals on the issues is developed.http://www.indigenoussummit.
• The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues of the United Nations, during the seventh session from April 21 to May 2 of 2008 in New York, has addressed as a special issue “Climate change, biocultural diversity and the livelihood: the role of custody exercised by indigenous peoples and new challenges.” In which it states that the survival of the lifestyle of indigenous peoples depends in great part on the commitments and agreements on climate change. It indicates that indigenous peoples must carry the heaviest burden of adaptation and their way and of living, their food sovereignty, health, integrity, traditional knowledge, culture and their own existence are being affected.
• On January 14th, 2010 the United Nations publishes the current state of world’s indigenous peoples. This report indicates that one the most important threats that confront the indigenous peoples is the displacement of their lands, territories and resources, violation and human rights abuses.
Projects and Proposals
• Indigenous peoples in the world summit in April 2009 in Alaska, proposed that the negotiations on climate change will maintain the spirit and standards of the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples Rights.
• The IV Continental Summit of Indigenous Abya Yala, May 31 2009, proposes the construction of community plurinational states and Climate Justice Tribunal. At this meeting, they agree to make demontrations in defense of mother earth.

• During the Fifteenth Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change, Copenhagen in December 2009. The Indigenous Caucus decided to present its proposals on climate change and indigenous peoples’ rights through the President of Bolivia, Evo Morales. These proposals are referred to the implementation and observation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, their rights of their traditional knowledge and others.

​This proposes the full participation of indigenous peoples in the process and decision making on climate change. The rights to their lands, territories and resources, respect free and informed consent. To ensure their participation as holders of forest and land possession.

​​Also, they called to take into account the rights of mother earth and all natural beings.,,
Reference documents:
• United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 1994.
• Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention of 1989.
• The Anchorage Declaration in April 2009.
• Report of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Action of long-term cooperation under the Convention. Copenhagen 7 at 15 December 2009.
• Klimaforum09 Declaration “System changed not climate change” December 2009.

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Alliance of Guardians of Mother Nature 
Indigenous environmental network