Involve the indigenous peoples and local communities in global climate governance

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By Prof. Shaoting YIN

Climate change has been and is having an important impact on the environment and human society, it has become a hot issue in the world today. Indigenous peoples and local communities who are usually considered poor and dependent on natural resources — especially in developing countries — are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, they are often in a predicament when they are hit by a sudden change of climate. Due to historical, social, political and economic reasons, many indigenous peoples and local communities have chosen or forced to live in more remote and harsh environments, and their livelihoods are highly dependent on natural resources, so the impact of climate change on indigenous peoples is more serious than that of other populations.

Although indigenous peoples and local communities have been greatly affected by climate change, they remain marginalized in academic, policy and public discussions on climate change, especially in the global climate governance. In the high level meetings and reports, there is little mention of indigenous peoples and local communities, even if they are referred to as only the victims of no hope in the process of climate change, that they are unable to cope with the impact, and that there are very few areas and ethnic groups mentioned.

The impact of climate change has undoubtedly deepened the crisis and made indigenous peoples and local communities more vulnerable to the challenge. In this context, the indigenous peoples and local communities should be involved in the global climate governance and the core is the traditional ecological knowledge associated to biodiversity.

Climate change has largely influence the biodiversity in the world, as the biodiversity hotspots area are often also rich in cultural diversity, the indigenous peoples and local communities have rich traditional ecological knowledge associated to biodiversity, this knowledge also provide alternative information about climate variability and change based on the experience and practices of biodiversity resource use. The traditional ecological knowledge is not only an effective toolbox, but also a process to adapt the climate change in local level. The local people use their traditional knowledge about the climate to guide their biodiversity resource use and management. There are the cultural values and worldview associated with the traditional ecological knowledge in understandings of global climate change. This is the basis for involving the indigenous peoples and local communities into global climate governance.

There are two key points in the process of involving the indigenous peoples and local communities into global climate governance: First, traditional ecological knowledge is not a static and closed system, but a dynamic and developing process of change and innovation. So we can integrate other cultures, including scientific knowledge, and create a new culture; Secondly, science and traditional knowledge are not antagonistic, not the relationship between this or the other. The future human social development should be based on the integration and innovation of multiculturalism, so as to find the way of human sustainable development. Therefore, in the process of adapting to climate change, indigenous peoples and local communities should combine traditional ecological knowledge with climate policies, modern science and technology to enhance the effectiveness of adaptation strategies. The integrated adaptation strategy based on the development of traditional ecological knowledge can make them better adapt to climate change.

Although the indigenous peoples and local communities are not the focus of governments games at the negotiating table, or of the charts, graphs, models and formulae compiled by scientists, their vast traditional knowledge of climate change is the weapon they rely on for survival and development. Their traditional ecological knowledge may not be “scientific”, but nevertheless represents a shining beacon of wisdom, worth researching by scholars of all disciplines and backgrounds. Traditional ecological knowledge associated to biodiversity provides a way to involve the indigenous peoples and local communities in the global climate governance.

Views expressed in this publication are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Paris Peace Forum.

Prof. Shaoting YIN, Founder and Director of Center for Biodiversity and Indigenous Knowledge

Prof. Shaoting YIN was one of the first pioneers in the research of ecological anthropology in China. He was the head of the Institute of Sociology, Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences, and deputy curator of Yunnan Museum of Nationalities, director of Department of Anthropology, Yunnan University, and curator of Anthropology Museum. For a long time, he has conducted in-depth research on the ecological knowledge and culture of mountain ethnic
groups in southwestern China, and has carried out many projects for the
protection of traditional culture with the support of the Ford Foundation
of the United States. He was also a visiting professor at Kyoto University
and Tokyo Foreign Studies University in Japan.

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