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August 1, 2019

Local knowledge, global action: Indigenous People, forest communities, and conservation


It’s increasingly clear. If we are to adequately tackle climate breakdown, and protect Earth’s environment, we must promote and protect the rights of the world’s indigenous populations. 

Recognising the achievements and contributions made by indigenous peoples to conservation, land stewardship and climate mitigation is essential. 

Who are indigenous peoples? 

There are an estimated 370 million indigenous people worldwide, across 90 countries, representing 5,000 different cultures. Around the world, indigenous peoples retain social, cultural, economic and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant societies in which they live. But despite forming less than 5% of the world’s population, indigenous peoples account for 15% of the world’s economically poorest.

Today, they are arguably among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, as throughout history, their rights have been consistently violated. 

group of ashaninka huts in rainforest

Indigenous rights and a changing climate

Action is required to protect indigenous rights and maintain these distinct cultures and ways of life. From the nomadic pastoralists living along desert margins to fishing communities in low-lying islands, indigenous peoples are often located in high-risk environments where climate change impacts are already being felt.

Many indigenous peoples in rural Latin and Southern America are being forced to migrate to urban areas. Despite moving to find employment opportunities, they often find themselves alienated and face multiple challenges from lack of access to healthcare and education leaving them vulnerable to additional levels of discrimination1

Often those who do find a way to stay face extreme weather events and climate impacts despite contributing the least towards global emissions and ecological detriment.

Local knowledge, Global action

Indigenous people are inheritors and practitioners of unique ways of relating to people and the environment and protect nearly 22% of Earth’s surface and 80% of biodiversity. 

With support, this makes them powerful stakeholders when responding to climate change and conservation challenges. 

“Indigenous, local, and traditional knowledge systems and practices, including indigenous peoples’ holistic view of community and environment, are a major resource for adapting to climate change.”

– IPCC Fifth Assessment Report2

Despite a desire to protect their ancestral home, financial poverty, health and education often take priority over conservation.

Houses in Gadaisu, PNG rainforest

Cool Earth works at community level to address the underlying issues of financial insecurity in order to keep trees standing. Local and indigenous knowledge must be integral when developing meaningful practices that tackle the adverse impacts of climate change.3

Cool Earth works to share local knowledge and develop the best ways to protect rainforest globally. With help to develop their climate, financial and social resilience, we believe that indigenous and local communities have the potential to be the greatest rainforest custodians.

  1. UN.org, 2018

  2.  Technical Summary of the Working Group 2 contribution to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report

  3. IPBES Report, 2019

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