Inclusivity of Indigenous Peoples in UN Climate Change Policymaking

by | Apr 4, 2019

The potential of the proposed local communities and Indigenous peoples’ platform to effectively engage traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) for climate policy is evalutated.

Indigenous Peoples occupy 20% of the earth’s territory and have long been considered to hold intimate and vital knowledge of their environments and how to use them sustainably. Yet this knowledge is often given limited voice and credence in official policymaking and thus is not incorporated within decision-making processes on environmental issues.

Indigenous Peoples are also under severe threat due to climate change, which is expected to not only undermine their livelihoods but also exacerbate social-ecological challenges. However, decision-making and policymaking on climate change does not often account for the views and needs of Indigenous Peoples effectively.

In order to address these challenges, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) officially established the ‘Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform,’ which aims to enhance and facilitate the inclusion of Indigenous Peoples within climate change policymaking at an international level, such as through promoting their engagement and knowledge integration.

Academics from the University of Oxford Environmental Change Institute in this WIREs Climate Change review have assessed this proposed platform using theories of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK). A number of key findings emerge regarding how well the Platform acknowledges recommendations within the TEK literature to effectively engage Indigenous Peoples.

Firstly, the outcomes of the review suggest that whilst the process of developing the Platform structure appears to be inclusive and representative, the structure itself fails to acknowledge factors such as unequal power relations and histories of colonialism that lead to the marginalization of Indigenous Peoples within the UN and UNFCCC in the first place. Without adequately acknowledging and de-constructing these factors, it is unlikely that the Platform will be able to overcome existing institutional barriers or lead to the empowerment of IPs through knowledge recognition and integration.

Secondly, whilst the Platform does acknowledge the specific characteristics of TEK that require attention when it comes to knowledge integration, no formal mechanism exists yet to ensure that these characteristics are preserved beyond standard requirements of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC).

Overall, the authors argue that the Platform does not fully respond to the well-established literature on the ethics and politics of incorporating TEK, in particular falling short when it comes to the institutional and structural barriers to integration, with no mechanisms yet proposed to address the critiques of straightforward TEK incorporation as a form of distortion at best, and neo-colonial appropriation at worst. In order to address these shortcomings, the authors recommend that the Platform shift away from a TEK incorporation perspective and instead adopt a multiple evidence based (MEB) approach, which ‘braids’ together Indigenous and scientific knowledges to enable preservation of the integrity of different knowledge systems whilst subsequently leading to new insights and innovations, thereby enhancing the overall understanding of climate change and the effectiveness of climate actions.


Kindly contributed by Zoha Shawoo and Thomas F. Thornton

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