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Indigenous knowledge and climate change

Indigenous communities have long been recognised as being particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change due to the close connection between their livelihoods, culture, spirituality and social systems and their environment. At the same time, however, this deep and long-established relationship with the natural environment affords many indigenous peoples with knowledge that they have long used to adapt to environmental change, and are now using to respond to the impacts of climate change.

The potential of indigenous knowledge for informing observations of, and responses to climate change is an area of growing interest, particularly for those working at community level where access to other forms of “scientific” knowledge are inaccessible or incomplete, but increasingly in international forums such as the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) and  IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change) as well. While this potential is exciting and may offer new ways to directly engage local communities in action on climate change, it also brings with it important concerns about power, rights, and ethics in engaging with these kinds of partnerships. This key issues guide provides resources for better understanding the relationship between indigenous knowledge and climate change, the potential this relationship may hold, and the challenges that may underlie it.
Key feature: Presenting an overview of climate change and Indigenous Peoples (IP) initiatives
People in gap
M. Henley / Panos Pictures
This compendium presents a wide-ranging overview of more than 400 projects, case studies and research activities specifically related to climate change and Indigenous Peoples (IP). It provides a sketch of the climate and environmental changes, local observations and impacts being felt by communities in different regions, and outlines various adaptation and mitigation strategies that are currently being implemented by IP.

Use of IK in predicting or observing the impacts of climate change

Indigenous knowledge is now recognised as a powerful tool for compiling evidence of climate change over time, and is beginning to be se en as a tool for forecasting seasonal climate information. More...

Use of IK in responding to climate change

Indigenous knowledge systems, resource management practices, and adaptation strategies are all considered important tools for both mitigating and adapting to climate change. More...

Rights, ethics and justice considerations

Despite the clear value of linking indigenous knowledge to action on climate change, it is important to consider how engaging with the communities who hold this knowledge may raise issues of rights, ethics or social justice. More...

Latest Documents

Authorship in IPCC AR5 and its implications for content: climate change and Indigenous populations in WGII
J.,D. Ford; W. Vanderbilt; L. Berrang-Ford / Springer, 2011
This document examines the extent to which we can expect Indigenous Knowledge, understanding, and voices on climate change (‘Indigenous content’) to be captured in WGII of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), based...
Weathering uncertainty: traditional knowledge for climate change assessment and adaptation
D. J. Nakashima / United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 2012
When considering climate change, indigenous peoples and marginalised populations warrant particular attention. Impacts on their territories and communities are anticipated to be both early and severe due to their location in vulnerabl...
Linking climate change and Africa’s development: proceedings from regional symposium
Institute of Development Studies, Sussex [ES], 2011
This report brings together the proceedings of the 2011 AfricaAdapt Climate Change Symposium, which share the research, experiences, and co-constructed knowledge that emerged from the three-day, bilingual symposium with the wider clim...
Getting the right synergy: Managing climate change and desertification in Malawi
L., C Stringer; D., D Mkwambisi; A., J Dougill / Leeds University, 2010
This paper explores the ways in which the interlinked challenges of climate change and desertification are managed in Malawi. The authors examine the synergy and conflict between local autonomous adaptation strategies and ...
The impacts of and efforts to address climate change in the fragile ecosystem of Sundarbans
A. Danda (ed) / WWF-World Wide Fund For Nature, 2010
The eco-region of Sundarbans is unique and fragile because it is one of the most extensive mangrove forests in the world. This report describes the Sundarbans region and the impacts of climate change using evidence from the people who...
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This guide has been written by Blane Harvey. Blane is a Senior Outreach and Engagement Officer for the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia at IDRC