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 peoples were excluded from decision making processes at COP26 including the negotiations regarding Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. At the same time, Indigenous peoples were acknowledged and recognized in the COP26 Decision (unedited version), also referred to as the Glasgow Climate Pact. What does acknowledgement and recognition of Indigenous peoples look like in the COP26 Decision and what is the overall impact for Indigenous peoples?

Indigenous peoples are mentioned in the COP 26 Decision, starting with the preamble which notes, “Recognizing the important role of indigenous peoples, local communities and civil society, including youth and children, in addressing and responding to climate change, and highlighting the urgent need for multilevel and cooperative action…” and that parties acknowledge “their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples.”

In addition, the decision refers to Indigenous peoples in several sections, for signatories to:

  • Acknowledge “the important role of a broad range of stakeholders at the local, national and regional level, including indigenous peoples and local communities, in averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change.” (Section VI Loss and Damage).
  • Emphasize “the important role of indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ culture and knowledge in effective action on climate change, and urges Parties to actively involve indigenous peoples and local communities in designing and implementing climate action and to engage with the second three-year workplan for implementing the functions of the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform, for 2022–2024.”

In an article for The Guardian, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, former UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples and director of Tebtebba Foundation (Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education), notes that too many disputes still linger between countries of the Global South and those of the Global North such that stipulations in the Paris Agreement are being implemented too slowly. Article 6 of the Paris Agreement focuses on carbon markets (i.e., the purchase and sale of credits by companies toward specific amounts of CO2 emissions). At COP26, Indigenous groups wanted to be included in the design and implementation of carbon offsets, have their rights protected, and be involved in setting up an “international grievance mechanism” should Indigenous “rights be violated in the implementation of Article 6.” Meanwhile, Indigenous knowledge and insight were excluded from Article 6 negotiations despite the oft-cited statistic that 80% of Earth’s biodiversity is found on Indigenous lands.

The exclusion of Indigenous peoples from decision making at COP26 is, by all accounts, a disappointment. Indigenous rights and title remain a priority among Indigenous land defenders as they combat climate change. As Tauli-Corpuz states in The Guardian, “We indigenous peoples will continue to do our duties and fulfil our obligations to Mother Earth and to our future generations. But we will be able to these better if our collective rights to our lands, territories and resources, to culture and to our traditional knowledge, practices and innovations are respected and protected.”


By Leela Viswanathan


(Photo Credit: Jonatan Pie, Unsplash)


The Indigenous World 2021 report released in April 2021 criticizes “building back better” COVID-19 economic national recovery policies world-wide as largely contradictory to climate recovery efforts. Economic recovery plans that prioritize large-scale infrastructure development and resource extraction over Indigenous sustainable development and regenerative practices work against efforts to slow down global warming; they further threaten Indigenous rights to land and ignore Indigenous experiences with COVID-19.

In April 2020, the planet experienced a 17% reduction in annual CO2 emissions, which if sustained over the next ten years could limit global warming to 1.5 oC set by the Paris Agreement. The 2021 IPCC Report, released on the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (August 9, 2021) pointed to human impacts on the future of the planet and to the vital role of Indigenous peoples to enhance climate efforts worldwide. However, the shift to online, virtual meetings due to COVID-19, resulted in a steep decline in Indigenous engagement in the United Nations sustainable development activities. In turn, local and national recognition of Indigenous peoples’ engagement in climate efforts is increasingly important during the pandemic.

In September 2021, in Canada, the rate of reported COVID-19 cases among First Nations people living on reserve was 3.5 times the respective rate of the general public.  Considering Indigenous experiences with COVID-19 and that Indigenous climate adaptation practices are foundational to the planet’s survival, Indigenous solutions must be supported in both climate and COVID-19 recovery plans.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image credit: Brendan Beale, Unsplash)

Threatened by the effects of climate change, such as coastal erosion and rising sea levels, Indigenous people are being forced to relocate their communities and risk loss of their culture. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that by 2050, there will be 20 million people displaced due to climate change.

Migration is often presented as a last resort climate change adaptation strategy for Indigenous peoples, and while the loss of culture, due to forced relocation, is evidenced, it is also difficult to quantify in ways that policymakers can appreciate. For example, when the US government was unable to protect several Alaskan Native American communities to remain in place and to adapt to thawing permafrost and reduced marine life, these communities were forced to relocate. In turn, the Climate Justice Resilience Fund and their international allies attempted to shed light upon losses to culture brought by forced migration, and advocated to the signatories of the Paris Agreement to develop rules to prevent such losses. 

Rising sea levels caused by global warming are threatening to displace more Indigenous people living on island nations, such as Tuvalu, located in the South Pacific Ocean, just 4 or 5 meters above sea level.  Similarly, the Lennox Island Mi’Kmaq First Nation located in Prince Edward Island, Canada, is adapting to rising sea levels and potential land loss. Their efforts are being supported by research with the Mi’kmaq Confederacy of Prince Edward Island and data drawn from the University of PEI’s CLIVE tool to track the loss of land fallen into the sea and to adapt to the rapid rate of soil erosion. As another source of information on climate change planning, the PEI Climate Change Action Plan 2018-2023 helps communities to assess how to plan for the erosion of coastal lands; however, it does not address climate change-related Indigenous migration due to land loss and related cultural impacts.

Canada’s federal government does not have a plan in place to address climate-forced displacement of Indigenous peoples. Considering the lack of state-based government policy on displacement, even with financial investment in climate change adaptation, there is a need for world-wide coordination with Indigenous communities to learn how these communities envision their own futures under climate change threats. In Australia, researchers have reported on the diverse dimensions of climate change-induced migration, noting that any attempts at a one-size fits all adaptation policy for Indigenous communities should be replaced by efforts to develop “place-based adaptive strategies” with Indigenous communities.

Grassroots coalitions across not-for-profit, religious organizations, human rights organizations, and Indigenous communities have convened discussions to put forward Indigenous-led solutions to climate change adaptation. They also consider how to mitigate the violation of human rights related to climate-forced migration. In turn, it is vital to learn from the experiences of Indigenous peoples to humanize the impact of climate change effects and to consider how communities are simultaneously addressing the environmental impacts of climate change and the pressures of climate-forced relocation.  

By Leela Viswanathan

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