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Indigenous peoples’ knowledge and climate adaptation (9 August 2020)

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On the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, this factsheet highlights the ways in which traditional and indigenous peoples’ knowledge contributes to climate change adaptation and how it can reinforce the resilience of vulnerable communities in climate hotspots.

Indigenous peoples safeguard 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity while representing 6 per cent of the world’s population. Their sustainable use of natural resources protects nature and helps communities build resilience to climate change. Indigenous peoples are the best guardians of global biodiversity.

More than 20 per cent of the carbon stored in forests is found in land managed by indigenous peoples, preserving vital carbon pools which continuously capture CO2 and release oxygen into the atmosphere, thereby reducing climate change impacts.

LOCAL KNOWLEDGE TO ADDRESS THE GLOBAL CLIMATE EMERGENCY

Indigenous peoples bear the brunt of the climate emergency. They are particularly exposed and vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change due to their reliance on nature for their survival and sources of economic livelihoods. For generations, indigenous communities have monitored climatic and environmental changes, and developed adaptative practices. Traditional knowledge can be key to building resilience for vulnerable populations in the face of climate change.

Traditional knowledge relies on nature-based solutions, passed on by their elders over generations and it can effectively contribute to adaptation strategies at the local, national and global levels. Their time-tested practices should inform policy decisions and be reflected along with indigenous peoples' rights into adaptation frameworks.

Traditional knowledge emphasizes balance, respect and harmony between human beings and the rest of the natural world, particularly regarding use of resources. Traditional practices aim to have a minimal impact of the environment and foster self-sustaining ecosystems and biodiversity.

INDIGENOUS PEOPLES AND DISPLACEMENT RISKS

Climate change disrupts local economies especially in rural communities and increasingly interacts with the root causes of conflict and population flows. Global data on minorities and indigenous peoples in forced displacement situations is not available. Enhanced disaggregated information would help to better understand the distinct challenges that minorities and indigenous peoples face, and improve access to aid, safe refuge and protection.

The frequent absence of land rights documentation or the legal recognition of communal lands may increase the risk of displacement and decrease the likelihood for return. Finding durable solutions is particularly challenging when changes to climate or environmental degradation render certain indigenous lands uninhabitable, or where there has been occupation or confiscation of land for development projects.

Indigenous peoples face specific vulnerabilities during transit and resettlement that affect their access to protection and assistance, yet global humanitarian crises discussions often ignore the plight of indigenous peoples