Indigenous peoples and local communities are “the rightful custodians of climate change knowledge”

Increasingly, indigenous peoples and local communities are seen as central to strategies to end the planetary crises we face today: climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss.

Last November, at the 27th World Summit on Climate Change (COP27), world governments meeting in Sharm-al-Sheik, Egypt, signed an agreement in which they recognize “the important role” of indigenous peoples and communities. communities in the fight against climate change. change.

A month later, at the World Biodiversity Summit (COP15), in Canada, they adopted the Kunming-Montreal Accord, in which they highlight “the important roles and contributions of indigenous peoples and local communities as guardians of biodiversity and partners in its conservation, restoration and sustainable use”.

Despite the rhetoric, these human groups, who tend to live close to what we call the “natural world”, are among the most affected by the effects of planetary crises, although their contribution to the breakdown of Earth systems is virtually insignificant when compared to those corporations and countries that actually have the power and money to transform the way humans have treated the planet.

This Wednesday marks the International Day of Indigenous Peoples, and a team of researchers from the “Local Indicators of the Impacts of Climate Change” (LICCI) project recalls that these human groups have “a rich and extensive general knowledge of the impacts of climate change and possible forms of adaptation.

Scientists spent five years analyzing how indigenous peoples and local communities manage the changing environment around them, how they perceive climate change in their territories and how they react to it. In total, the project led by the Autonomous University of Barcelona covered 52 case studies from regions around the world.

One of the research findings is that indigenous peoples and local communities are “disproportionately affected by climate change” as they often live in climatic “hotspots” and their livelihoods are highly dependent on natural systems. .

These groups tend to exist on the fringes of societies and be the targets of unequal treatment by centralized authorities and governments, so climate change, scientists say, is just one of many challenges. with which they are faced.

“Connected to their natural environment over generations, they have a holistic understanding of the cascading effects of climate change impacts, from changes in atmospheric, physical and biological systems to impacts on their lifestyles,” says Victoria Reyes García, project coordinator. .

During the study period, researchers sought to understand how climate instability is hampering agriculture in Peru and Mexico, how global warming is making ice hunting “extremely risky” for people in the Arctic , and how changes in sea currents and temperature on shallow coral reefs in Kenya are making octopus fishing more difficult.

Researchers believe the project’s findings show how indigenous peoples and local communities are trying to adapt to the effects of climate change, using their traditional knowledge gained from hundreds of years of first-hand experience with the world. natural. And they are convinced that more industrialized societies have much to learn from these more traditional human groups.

However, they regret that the knowledge of these peoples is not duly taken into account when developing strategies and policies to combat climate change and to develop measures to adapt to this phenomenon.

“As the legitimate custodians of knowledge about climate change and its impacts on the local environment, indigenous peoples and local communities should have a more central role in the scientific and political processes of understanding and adapting to climate change” , argue the researchers, who depend on the “voices” of these human groups to be heard at all levels of decision-making, from local to international.

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