During the UN Forum Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP27 and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Convention of the Parties (COP)15, held in late 2022, Indigenous advocates centred “the loss and damage to Indigenous rights” and the ongoing need for global action on climate change. While numerous challenges to climate change remain in 2023, Indigenous-led solutions to climate change are critical to ending further biodiversity loss.

According to the OHCHR, COP27 revealed that signatories of the Paris Agreement made little progress on their pledges to embed Indigenous rights in climate actions. The Paris Agreement included reference to Indigenous rights. However, for some Indigenous advocates at COP27, the emphasis on climate financing overshadowed any efforts to include Indigenous perspectives, and discussions about Indigenous rights in climate policy and decision making. For instance, according to Indigenous Climate Action, the development of a loss and damage fund “in which countries responsible for high carbon emissions compensate vulnerable countries suffering from climate impacts,” centered economics, and consequently, shifted attention away from Indigenous rights and further support for the role of Indigenous peoples in protecting biodiversity. And while the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC) considered the establishment of the loss and damage fund to be a success, they hoped the funds would also “directly reach Indigenous Peoples.”  Cultural Voices recorded a number of Indigenous voices from around the world, sharing perspectives about key decisions made at COP27.

The Kunming-Montreal Biodiversity Framework (GBF) was an agreement made by nearly 200 countries at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in December 2022. Nations committed to engage in activities that would prevent further land and ocean biodiversity loss, on 30% of the planet, by 2030. Although Indigenous leaders considered the GBF to be a landmark agreement, they were concerned by the lack of clear targets to prevent the extinction of endangered species. Furthermore, Indigenous leaders were concerned that the GBF would lump all Indigenous people in a global pan-Indigenous identity, as expressed through Indigenous rights, rather than recognizing the distinct cultural and social contexts and traditions of thousands upon thousands of Indigenous nations worldwide.

According to the U.S.-based United Nations Foundation Climate and Environment Experts, issues at the forefront of climate action in 2023 include climate finance, food systems, and subnational action on climate change. However, rather than focusing solely on general climate change issues and failed attempts at embedding Indigenous rights into UN policies on climate change, more attention should be placed on Indigenous-led climate solutions in the fight to protect biodiversity. For example, Canada’s Indigenous-led Natural Climate Solutions initiative shifts the focus from policy to practical on-the-ground efforts in biodiversity protection.

While some nations continue their efforts to pressure governments to embed the laws of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, at the bare minimum, in climate policy and climate action, local and national programs may provide more tangible support for Indigenous governance authority and nationhood and prevent further biodiversity loss into the next decade.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Image credit: Benjamin Voros, Unsplash)

The United Nations Paris Agreement states that signatories (also referred to as “Parties” to the agreement) should “respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights” and to integrate these into their climate actions. The agreement “sets long-term goals to guide all nations to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions to limit the global temperature increase in this century.”  Since 2020, Parties must outline their long-term goals and climate actions through “Nationally Determined Contributions” or NDCs.

In November 2022, the Centre for International Environmental Law and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a toolkit to guide Parties on how to integrate human rights in NDCs. The toolkit, “Integrating Human Rights in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)”, centers public participation and domestic planning processes in formulating NDCs and integrating human rights obligations of Parties into “the implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of the NDC.” The toolkit consists of seven sections. Section 5 of the toolkit (pp. 23-27) sets out three recommendations that address integrating the rights and traditional knowledge of Indigenous peoples in NDCs:

  • Recommendation 5.1 Integrate obligations articulated by UNDRIP in the preparation and implementation of the NDC.
  • Recommendation 5.2 Respect the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples.
  • Recommendation 5.3 Integrate and respect traditional knowledge in the preparation and implementation of the NDC.

The section also provides reflection questions for Parties to consider throughout the process of including Indigenous peoples in the further development of climate adaptation and mitigation policies.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Image credit: Dan Meyers, Unsplash)

Indigenous experiences and perspectives of climate change are prevalent in Canada’s National Adaptation Strategy (NAS), launched in November 2022. Recognition of Indigenous rights, governance, and self-determination, as well as Indigenous-led climate change actions, are included in the strategy.

The National Adaptation Strategy (NAS) is intended to build collaborative efforts and shared goals for the “whole of society” to meet, to manage climate threats, and to build resilient communities. The strategy provides foundational information about climate change impacts, to start with, and then offers guiding principles which inform the goals and objectives to prepare for, act upon, across five key systems: disaster resilience; health and wellbeing; nature and biodiversity; infrastructure; and economy and workers. The NAS provides short term and long-term annual targets for monitoring and evaluation of climate change and action plans that reveal the possibilities for implementing the national strategy as a coordinated effort.

Respect for Indigenous jurisdictions and rights is the first guiding principle of the strategy. First Nation, Métis Nation, and Inuit governments are mentioned alongside local, provincial, territorial, and national governments in directing and informing decisions about climate change. The rights of First Nations, Métis Nation, and Inuit are also recognized in relation to the constitutional rights, treaty rights and “inherent rights to own, use, develop, control, conserve and protect the environment of their lands, territories and resources, in accordance with the standards set out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” (p.17). This statement provides context for the Indigenous-led climate adaptation solutions included in Annex F of the strategy.

The NAS brings together climate adaptation efforts implemented by various governments across different jurisdictions and highlights risks to address such that “action in one jurisdiction does not become a barrier or compromise solutions for adaptation for others” (p.31). Indigenous self-determination is highlighted, encouraging efforts to support Indigenous peoples to “choose their own actions to build climate change preparedness that align with their values” (p.31). The NAS acknowledges how communities vary in their capacity and that enhancing capacities can close equity gaps; this links to NAS’s second guiding principle: equity and environmental justice.

Ecosystem stewardship initiatives by First Nations, Métis, and Inuit governments are identified as efforts for reversing and stopping loss of grasslands and forests, as well as freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems. These initiatives are intended to enable nature and biodiversity to respond and recover from climate events.

Annex F: Indigenous Climate Change Strategies and Adaptation Action, lists resources, adaptation strategies, plans, and actions that are led by First Nations, Inuit, and the Métis Nation. Action plans that were launched in 2022, include BC First Nations Climate Strategy and Action Plan and the Inuvialuit Settlement Region Climate Change Strategy. The Indigenous Climate Hub website is listed among the resources.

The National Adaptation Strategy aims to “dramatically scale up” Canada’s climate adaptation solutions and engage all of society. As a living document, the NAS and its adaptation action plans will be updated every five years.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Image credit: Joris Beugels, Unsplash)

How can climate policy be more inclusive of Indigenous rights and knowledge systems, while working toward reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples? Principles for creating ethical spaces and recognizing the Treaty and constitutionally-protected rights of Indigenous peoples are two ways to elevate Indigenous perspectives, knowledge, and approaches to climate mitigation and adaptation policies.

“We Rise Together,” the 2018 report by The Indigenous Circle of Experts (ICE), describes ethical space as “a venue for collaboration and advice, sharing and cross-validation (where one side validates the other).” Ethical spaces create environments where Indigenous and non-Indigenous systems of knowledge can interact, through mutual respect, kindness, and generosity, to generate an exchange of values. There is a difference between the idea of the ethical space, and the practice of it: “[w]hile agreeing to formally enter ethical space may be straightforward for most parties, actually being within that space together requires flexibility.”

Historical legacies of colonialism prevent Indigenous-led solutions for climate change from being effectively implemented. Consequently, researchers propose calls to action to facilitate Indigenous-led climate mitigation and adaptation policies in Canada; these actions include how climate policy must:

  • prioritize human relationships with land and rebalance the relationship between people and Mother Earth.
  • prioritize Indigenous knowledge systems and equally consider diverse knowledge systems.
  • be multidimensional in order to also advance decarbonization and decolonization.
  • position Indigenous peoples as leaders from diverse nations, having inherent rights to self-determination.
  • be forward-thinking, and promote the well-being of Indigenous peoples.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Image Credit: Lili Popper, Unsplash)

A systematic literature review conducted by researchers from the University of Sydney, and published in February 2022, reaffirms that climate change has direct, indirect, and different effects on Indigenous mental wellness globally. When attachment to land is disrupted by the effects of extreme weather events, the resultant upheaval triggers different emotions among various Indigenous peoples. The relationship among Indigenous peoples, emotions, and climate change effects, varies from place to place.

According to the research study,  emotional responses to the effects of climate change, vary globally among Indigenous peoples. For example, feelings of frustration are documented among the peoples of rural savannahs in Western Africa, who experience erratic weather, caused by climate change. Meanwhile, aggression is noted to increase among Indigenous people in Australia who are impacted by droughts. Inuit experiencing loss of sea ice are documented with ecological grief, and risk factors contributing to PTSD are also documented about Taiwanese communities experiencing typhoons. These examples offer insights into the impacts of direct pressures of climate change on Indigenous wellness, and how the impact can vary from location to location and among various Indigenous communities. In these ways, unexpected, prolonged, and repeated changes in the land can be understood as negatively impacting Indigenous health. There are also indirect pressures of climate change that result in distress and that undermine mental wellness. Indirect pressures include decreased access to land and fewer opportunities to pass along Indigenous knowledge. When land connections are threatened or removed, mental wellness declines. Disruptions to culture and disruptions to land become detrimental to the health and wellbeing of Indigenous community members.

While the effects of climate change on the land brought on by adverse weather conditions are detrimental to Indigenous health, the research study notes how the “intrinsic connection and attachment to land” reduces stress and supports overall mental wellness. For example, Inuit Elders in Rigolet, Canada, have shown how spending time on the land enhances mental wellness among individuals and across whole communities.

Different aspects that affect the vulnerability of Indigenous peoples to climate change and mental wellness of Indigenous peoples include, perceptions and understandings of climate change; place attachment; disruption to culture; food insecurity; and broader, existing social injustices. Across many cultures, maintaining and sharing cultural traditions are ways to cope with climate change. For example, Torres Strait Islander Peoples engage in music, art, and traditional teachings, all known to enhance emotional well being.

The research provides different examples from all over the world, and shows how Indigenous communities are experiencing threats to mental wellness brought upon by climate change. Social supports and kinship ties assist Indigenous peoples to adapt to climate change and to uphold coping mechanisms to manage mental wellness. Perceptions and viewpoints about vulnerability and community resilience differ among Indigenous peoples, depending on where they live, how they engage with traditional knowledge, and how they share this knowledge among diverse members of their communities, including among youth, women, and Elders.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Image credit: David Clode, Unsplash)

Indigenous science (or Native science) is “a science of the way of knowing the land.” It involves multiple ways of knowing the natural environment and highlights Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK). As part of environmental education, Indigenous science can address climate change by informing government policy, strengthening human connections with nature, and building relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.

Indigenous scholars are educating policy makers, scientists, and students about Indigenous science in various ways. For example, Dr. Myrle Ballard (Lake St. Martin First Nation), Director of Indigenous Science at Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), raises awareness of Indigenous science through a process of “bridging, braiding, and weaving.” Dr. Ballard encourages better government decision making and collaborative research practices through linkages between Indigenous science and Western Science. In another example, at the University of New Mexico, Dr. Gregory Cajete (Santa Clara Pueblo) teaches about Native science, and encourages students to take responsibility for the environment, while also building a connection to it.

The Bunun People of Taiwan have designed an environmental education program involving TEK that engages their own community and non-Indigenous people. A key intention of the Bunun program is to encourage non-Indigenous people to adopt Indigenous environmental practices to combat climate change. The program strengthens Indigenous practices as a way to counter historical injustices caused by colonization.

Together, Indigenous science and environmental education can influence government policy and Western scientific practices, and foster diverse relationships, to address climate change.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Image Credit: Providence Doucet, Unsplash)

Indigenous design draws from Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and brings cultural relevance and innovation to climate change adaptation. Indigenous design is also cognizant and respectful of Indigenous cultural traditions. There are several examples of Indigenous design as it relates to climate change, including practicing cultural burning and building infrastructure and architecture using local sustainable materials harvested locally.

Cultural burning is a form of slow controlled fires. The practice of cultural burning has different purposes among diverse Indigenous communities. In addition to managing wildfires, cultural burning is also practiced for “cultural and language preservation, fuel mitigation, food and medicinal plant revitalization, and habitat enhancement.” Cultural burning is a form of TEK, based on many centuries of experience among Indigenous peoples, and continues to be practiced worldwide. Australian architect, Julia Watson, uses the term “Lo-TEK” to reflect “resilient infrastructures developed by Indigenous people through Traditional Ecological Knowledge.” According to Watson, “Lo-TEK” subverts the term “low-tech,” which is a reference to outdated technology. Watson proposes that the term “Lo-TEK” is a much better description of Indigenous TEK in contemporary designs that work with nature and the climate. In turn, cultural burning is a form of Lo-TEK.

Some examples of Indigenous design in architecture include buildings that minimize environmental impact using sustainable materials like mud, bamboo, and adobe brick. Houses in the Mizoram region of Northeastern India—referred to as Zawlbuk houses—are built using bamboo, which grow readily in the local forests. The houses use “wood, leaves of trees, mud, grass, and straw” and have been known to survive natural disasters, like floods. Building with adobe brick isan ancient construction method…dating back to 8300 BC and a useful alternative to wood in arid regions. Adobe brick is used in building houses around the world, including in rural Kyrgyzstan and among the Pueblo in southwestern United States. This  traditional construction method permits a home to remain cool during the day and for the sunbaked bricks to slowly release heat overnight, revealing the adobe brick’s high thermal mass.

Indigenous design, including climate-related TEK, is at great risk of appropriation by non-Indigenous governments and practitioners, if there are no legal frameworks to protect it. Greater respect for, and promotion of, Indigenous engagement is needed to determine if, when, and how TEK is documented and shared. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has created a toolkit to assist Indigenous communities, and those who work with Indigenous peoples, to reflect upon whether TEK practices are documented (or need to be), and if so, how to do so fairly. Given that climate-related Indigenous knowledge has been recognized by the United Nations as a way forward, intellectual property will remain an important challenge to address before more widely integrating Indigenous design in climate change adaptation planning.

In turn, any effort in advancing the application of TEK, and therefore, Indigenous design, in climate change policy will require that Indigenous peoples are not sidelined from sustainable development policy and planning processes.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Image Credit: Eric Barbeau, Unsplash)

Climate change and poverty are intimately connected. This connection deserves a closer look, given deepening social and economic inequalities worldwide. The call to integrate climate adaptation measures with poverty reduction measures are ongoing.

In 2021, countries facing the greatest ecological threat were the same as those facing the greatest need for economic support. A longstanding recommendation of the OECD is to increase the adaptive capacity of nations to combat climate change and to address poverty.

A report by The Green Resilience Project highlights four recommendations for Canadian government and climate policymakers to enhance economic vitality of communities while addressing climate change. These recommendations are to:

  1. Incorporate basic income into Canada’s plan for a just transition.
  2. Design income security and climate policy solutions to focus on improving individual and collective quality of life.
  3. Empower people and communities with the tools and resources they need to build or strengthen resilience
  4. Ensure that corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share.

It is time to rethink the term “resilience,” if not to do away with the word altogether, so that governments, corporations, and society can more realistically address the emergent and long-term needs of nations and communities to address poverty and climate change effects simultaneously. Investment into sustainable projects that address the dual problems of climate change and poverty can counter the overemphasis on how nations and communities fight environmental and economic adversity despite all the odds.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Image credit: Aaron Burden, Unsplash)

Outcomes of climate change on water include rising sea levels, warmer sea surface temperatures, and shifts in precipitation types, timing, and amounts. These outcomes have an impact on Indigenous Peoples’ relationship with water. Indigenous communities continue to draw from Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) to maintain the overall vitality of human-water ecosystems in the context of climate change.

Sea surface temperatures have been increasing steadily throughout the 20th century and this trend continues. Changes in ocean temperature affect the ongoing presence of plants, fish life, and other animals. Increases in water temperature have also significantly altered the migration and breeding patterns of sea life, including shellfish. Another key impact is the presence and the frequency of the recurrence of “red tide,” a harmful algal bloom (HAB). Harmful algal blooms are toxic microscopic organisms (also known as cyanobacteria) that feed off the energy of light to grow; they are fatal to marine life, and can make humans sick.

The Southeast Alaska Tribal Ocean Research (SEATOR) network has been monitoring, sampling, and reporting on the levels of toxins among shellfish around the Alaskan Panhandle. SEATOR benefits from Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge to help to predict harmful algal blooms (HAB), reduce poisoning, and harvest shellfish more effectively. Traditional harvesting practices of the Indigenous Peoples of Alaska help to keep Indigenous communities safe from the effects of HAB.

In another example of applying Indigenous Knowledge to manage human-water ecosystems, the Heiltsuk Nation (Bella Bella, British Columbia), on the West Coast of Canada, are applying traditional harvest practices, to facilitate the natural regeneration and resilience of kelp, at a small scale. With the assistance of researchers from the School of Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University, the Heiltsuk Nation are showing how their stewardship practices can help manage the growth of perennial kelp to make the kelp resilient to changes in the climate. University researchers were “motivated by the information needs” of the Heiltsuk Nation and together they co-designed a study to “measure the ecological resilience of feather boa kelp…and determine what environmental variables most affected its recovery.” The combination of Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Western scientific practices permitted the researchers to explore how the social relationship of the Heiltsuk Peoples to the ecological resilience of their environment are affected by increases in ocean temperatures.

Colonization compounds the effect of climate change (and vice-versa) on human-water ecosystem relationships. In Madagascar, for example, while rising sea levels have displaced Indigenous communities, conventionally, being nomadic, by choice, was also a way for Indigenous Peoples to deal with the unpredictability of the climate. However, a shift to sedentary lifestyles, further entrenched by modernization and colonization, have also affected human-water ecosystem relationships in Madagascar.

Drawing from a wide variety of Indigenous bodies of knowledge rooted in both Indigenous experiences and practices, shed light on different ways to manage climate change effects and to better understand the fine balance of human-water ecosystems in a changing climate.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Image Credit: Frank McKenna, Unsplash)

Indigenous communities are taking action to manage and improve air quality. Indoor and outdoor air quality are affected by weather and climate change effects. As noted in Chapter 2 of the Health of Canadians in a Changing Climate Report, changes in ground-level ozone, increases in airborne pollutants due to warmer temperatures, and smoke due to extreme wildfires, all negatively affect air quality and Indigenous respiratory health.

Sioux Lookout First Nation Health, the Nishnawbe First Nation, Health Canada, and university researchers conducted a research study to measure indoor air quality, explore its links with high rates in respiratory infections among Indigenous children, and find solutions. Study findings were published recently and supported efforts in the Sioux Lookout Region to address associated factors in indoor air quality, such as poor housing conditions, including repairs. and lack of functioning controlled ventilation.

The British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) notes that fine particulate matter in wildfire smoke poses the greatest risk to respiratory health. However, remaining confined indoors during a wildfire poses additional health complications, including mental health impacts and physical inactivity. In 2014, Yellowknife Dene partnered with Ecology North and created videos to show how they organized physical activities to escape from the “Summer of Smoke” and social activities to prevent the isolation of community members.

Changes to both physical infrastructure and social activities within Indigenous communities can go far to improve air quality—a serious factor affecting Indigenous health in a changing climate.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Image Credit: Vlad Kutepov, Unsplash)