Climate change and human rights: issues and opportunities for indigenous peoples

Climate change and human rights: issues and opportunities for indigenous peoples

How can indigenous people be engaged in climate mitigation?

This article examines issues and opportunities in relation to indigenous peoples’ participation in response to climate change both nationally and internationally. Using the case of Australia, the paper evaluates ways in which indigenous people choose to participate in local development opportunities through environment-based commercial activities. It also presents examples of ways in which indigenous people may contribute formally and informally to environmental services.

The paper argues that indigenous people have a special interest in climate change issues, not only due to their physical and spiritual relationships with land, water, and associated ecosystems, as well as their vulnerability to climate change, but also because they have a specialised ecological and traditional knowledge relevant to finding the best solutions. It notes that indigenous people have unique cultural interests, economic development aspirations, and legal rights and interests which should be respected, preserved, and promoted. They possess many tangible and intangible assets that may be realised through meaningful partnerships and investment. It further argues that as significant landholders, especially in northern Australia, the contribution of indigenous people to mitigation efforts must be recognised as a major component of the national mitigation response. Therefore indigenous people should not be excluded from collaborative engagement and partnerships with public and private sector in response to climate change.

The report gives the following recommendations:

  • there is need for financial assistance or incentives for investment in indigenous owned, managed or partnered projects
  • it is essential that new regulations preserve the existing rights and interests of indigenous peoples in Australia and use the space created by these rights and interests to grow future opportunities
  • for indigenous people to develop opportunities associated with climate mitigation activities, greater support and acknowledgement of indigenous environmental and land management projects is needed
  • in order to ensure indigenous peoples are appropriately engaged in responses to climate change, standards of best practice should be established to guide governments and proponents in dialogue and partnerships with indigenous communities
  • policy and lawmakers should engage with indigenous communities to ensure relevant decisions are informed by the specialised traditional knowledge and practices of indigenous peoples.
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