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Climate change and indigenous peoples

01 April 2008


While climate change affects everyone, it will probably hit the most vulnerable groups hardest. Indigenous peoples, according to the UN Development Group Guidelines on Indigenous Peoples Issues, are among the first to face direct adverse consequences of climate change, partly owing to their close relationship with the environment and its resources.

The Permanent Forum, which runs from 21 April to 2 May, brings together more than 1,000 indigenous representatives, senior UN officials, and representatives of governments, civil society and academia to address the theme: Climate change, bio-cultural diversity and livelihoods: the stewardship role of indigenous peoples and new challenges.

Emerging evidence suggests that the livelihoods and cultural identities of the more than 370 million indigenous peoples of North America, Europe, Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific are already under threat.

“Climate Change has really taken a toll on our traditional way of life and affected the source of livelihood of the Boro Indigenous people in Northeast India,” said Dharmodip Basumatary from the Boro community, who is currently an indigenous fellow with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva.

“Our age-old cultivation method, which entirely depends on rainfall, has been suffering due to changing weather patterns and a decrease of forest land,” he added.

Indigenous peoples from different parts of the world - whether in industrialized or developing countries – echo concerns about the impact of climate change in the survival of their communities.

“The Samburu and Maasai peoples are the first communities to face and feel the effects of climate change, due to our closeness with the environment and distinct ways of livelihood that depend on access to land, natural resources and sustainable development. We face marginalization, forced adaptation and losing our identities,” said Jane Naini Meriwas from the Maasai community in Kenya, who is also an indigenous fellow with OHCHR..

“Wisconsin and the Great Lakes region are home to some of the best-managed indigenous forestlands, wild rice beds, and fisheries in the United States, all of which hang in the balance due to global climate change,” said Doug Kiel, another OHCHR indigenous fellow, from the Oneida tribe of Indians in the United States.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples establishes the right of indigenous peoples to the conservation and protection of the environment of their lands and resources. The rights recognized in the Declaration constitute the “minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world.”

“As climate change will inevitably affect the enjoyment of human rights, safeguarding of human rights should be a key consideration in efforts to address the impact of climate change,” said Kyung-wha Kang, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, when she addressed the Bali Conference on Climate Change last December.

“The human rights approach compels us to look at the people whose lives are most adversely affected, and to urge governments to integrate their human rights obligations into policies and programs to deal with the climate change as well as to the international community to assist in this process,” she added.

1 April 2008