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How Are Indigenous Communities Affected by Climate Change?

The threats and dangers posed to the survival of Indigenous Peoples worldwide are often overlooked. By including these communities in our climate discourse, we can challenge these issues and work towards a solution.

Indigenous communities are amongst the most susceptible groups to endure negative impacts from the direct consequences of climate change. Due to their dependence on the environment and the adaptations they have made through using local resources, the groups suffer from unjust interferences to their livelihoods.

Recorded by Greenpeace UK, approximately 476 million worldwide self-identify as Indigenous Peoples – the ‘Peoples’ acknowledge the differences between the ethnicities yet still regard the communities found all across the Americas, Asia, Africa, Australasia, Northern Europe and the Middle East.

The Indigenous People’s environmentalist personas are based upon a close connection with nature and a potential spiritual connection with their land. Unlike most Western countries, these communities recognise a single environment that is saturated with personal powers (society) and embraces the biodiversity on which they depend and live (nature). Industrialised countries are yet to understand that humans should have a natural synergy with their environment. Instead, we are the perpetrators of land loss and increased fossil fuels, and we place continually alarming risks to the climate.

Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash

What is happening to Indigenous Peoples?

Despite their long-established conservationist abilities, these communities repeatedly experience undeserved effects of climate change. The climate crisis aside, Indigenous Peoples have previously suffered from political and economic marginalisation, unfair loss of their land without consent, human rights violations, and violence and discrimination worldwide. The negative impact we are having on climate change has only exacerbated these issues.

In a recent report drafted by the United Nations (UN), the Department of Economic and Social Affairs acknowledged that Indigenous Peoples are infrequently considered in public discourse. Taking stock of some of the prejudicial behaviours the groups have witnessed, we’ve seen:

- Kalahari Bushmen forced to live amongst government-enforced campaigns and rely on them for survival whilst being stripped of vegetation and the capability to safely farm cattle and goats.

- Multiple communities in the Himalayas rely on the seasonal water flow. Still, they are currently at risk of poor resource management due to glacial and snow melts affecting hundreds of millions of dwellers.

- The Wajapi Peoples of the Amazon are arguably the most victimised as their habitat is routinely destroyed. Deforestation not only releases more carbon into the atmosphere; it rapidly depletes biodiversity unique to the area. Slash-and-burn agriculture further puts livelihoods at risk and accounts for an estimated 70% of deforestationin the Amazon basin, ridding communities of employability opportunities.

- Land-grabbing corporations repeatedly invade communities. Discrimination has turned to violence in some instances, wherein the Yanomami Peoples even faced genocide to benefit gold miners.

- Inuit Peoples in the Arctic heavily depend on endemic plants and animals to preserve their People’s local economy and social identity. As weather predictions become seemingly more realistic, food scarcity and concerns about human health are growing.

How do we stop discrimination against Indigenous Peoples?

The ultimate suggestion would be to help protect Indigenous Peoples’ rights. There are multiple ways of doing this, but the most predominant is starting with the top-down. Governments and corporations worldwide continuously violate Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Oil, gas, mining, and industrial farming regularly threaten these communities due to their sustained conservation. The companies abusing their power by doing this are very often the same companies largely contributing to climate change. By knowing international law and lobbying governments and companies with global supply chains, we can retain precious lands and livelihoods and work towards solutions.

What’s more, learning about how and why these communities are essential in the fight against climate change would benefit all of us. They have an inherent knowledge of how to slow down the loss of biodiversity and are aware of preservation techniques that positively impact the planet.

How can we work with these communities to fight climate change?

During the most recent climate change conference (COP26), Indigenous communities finally got their recognition. Currently, Indigenous Peoples manage at least 24% of the entire above-ground carbon stored in the world’s tropical forests, making them a determining factor in the race to save the planet. Luckily, Sustainable Development Goals 13 (climate action) and 15 (life on land) grant these communities influential jurisdiction.

Both the climate crises and depleting biodiversity are identified as enough of a threat to action a new approach. In September of 2021, nine grant makers pledged $5 billion in order to work with Indigenous communities. The solutions suggested regarding climate mitigation and nature conservation come from knowledgeable Peoples’ all of whom we could learn from. If governments can maintain a respectful relationship with Indigenous communities, we can hopefully bear witness to an upend in the global challenge that is climate change.

Katie Mortimer 12/05/2022


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