General Information

General Information

How’s the weather today?

For many indigenous communities, the weather is very much a part of life. The rising and setting of the sun, the direction of the wind, the amount of rainfall, have meaning and relationship to how life goes in a community. Recently, however, intensifying changes to weather patterns have been observed. These changes have, in turn, changed patterns of wildlife or of plant growth, affecting the lives of indigenous peoples.

What is going on?

The weather changes in short periods of time. Even in a day, the weather can change from a sunny morning to a rainy afternoon. Over a very long period of time, say 30 years, a certain area would show a weather pattern. This “averaged” weather is called climate. The NASA (National Aeronautical and Space Administration), a special office in the US that studies space, says that an easy way to remember the difference is that “climate is what you expect, like a very hot summer, and weather is what you get, like a hot day with pop-up thunderstorms.”

What’s going on, is that the climate is changing, and it is changing mainly because of human activities. What’s more, it is changing too fast.

How do we know that the climate is changing?

The earth, as we already know it, goes around the sun. It is the sun that warms the air surrounding the earth, bringing about the different types of climate in different areas. This “air” that surrounds the earth is called the atmosphere and it is composed of a combination of different gases. Our interest is on a group of gases called the greenhouse gases (GHGs). They are called greenhouse gases because these gases in the atmosphere act like the glass walls of a greenhouse, which allows the sun's rays to enter but keeps the heat in. Greenhouse gases are chemical compounds such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide found in the atmosphere. These gases naturally exist. However, people are adding more of these gases into the atmosphere by human activities such as using machines to run factories, generate power and for transportation; massive land development or simply farming! Some of the heat that comes from the sun goes back out of the earth. It is the greenhouse gases that absorb some of the sun’s radiation, trapping the heat, so that the earth could stay warm, otherwise, it will be too cold.

This natural process is called the greenhouse effect. As humans and their activities emit more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the greenhouse effect becomes stronger. This results to global warming. Global warming is the noted average increase in the surface temperature of the earth and its oceans compared to previous centuries. Global warming is one key aspect of climate change. Carbon dioxide is the main GHG and its main source is the burning of fossil fuels such as oil, gas or coal that we use to run machines such as cars. Fossil fuels are called so because they come from the decay, burial and compaction of rotting vegetation on land, and of marine organisms on the sea floor and formed over millions of years.

You will be surprised to know that another major source of carbon is though activities that deforest trees or lead towards its degradation. These activities include large scale logging, mining, forest fires, expansion of agricultural land. In fact, a third of the carbon emission in the air is attributable to these kind of activities.

We are already feeling the other signs of climate change;

  • Precipitation patterns, or the occurrence of rain, snow, or hail has been observed to have changed. Some parts of the world are experiencing more rain than it used to and other parts of the world are experiencing less rain.
  • Extreme weather events such as stronger storms, droughts, heat waves, and rains are happening more often.
  • The snow covers of very high mountains are now much lesser than they used to be and the glaciers are melting so quickly.
  • Many island nations are in great danger because the sea level is rising. This is because there’s much of sea ice disappearing due to the poles getting warmer.
  • Coral reefs in the oceans are bleaching because of the warming and acidification of the oceans.

Who is responsible for the rapid increase of greenhouse gases?

As you already know, most of the greenhouse gases that are in the atmosphere come from the burning of fossil fuels for energy and by industrial processes such as petroleum refining and cement manufacturing. When people started using machines some 250 years ago, they started burning a lot of fossil fuels for their factories and farms. People started building cities and using cars and other machines that require fossil fuels for energy. This time was called the Industrial Revolution, and it began in Great Britain and spread through regions of Europe and to the United States. Today, these countries are called the “Industrialized Nations” and have included some countries in Asia and in the Pacific Rim as well. It is now clear that it is these developed countries - North America, Europe and Australia - who are responsible historically for emitting all these greenhouse gases with their energy-dependent and wasteful lifestyles. It is not fair that indigenous peoples from most African countries, Asia and Latin America who cannot afford to travel in cars and planes, do not have heating or air conditioning in their homes but have sustainable lifestyles and practices are those who suffer the most from climate change.

So what if the climate changes? Why are we, indigenous peoples, affected most?

For thousands of years, we indigenous peoples have lived closely and in relation to the land and to nature. The different plants and animals in the places where we live are the sources of our food, medicines, and livelihood. Our waters and lands are not only useful for us, they are also sacred. We live a sustainable way of life where we produce and harvest what we need, all the time ensuring balance with nature. It is because of this intrinsic relationship that we feel the most severe effects of climate change. Even with a low level of warming, the effects of climate change will definitely affect our lives. For example, just a one degree Celsius increase in global temperature will change how plants grow in the forest. With a two degree Celsius increase, many plants and animals will die, and most corals will be bleached. Imagine if it becomes even warmer, more and more people will be affected by flooding, drought, increase of diseases, extreme weather events and species extinction. Indigenous peoples, with their traditional ways of life, live with low–carbon to carbon neutral ways of life. A low-carbon lifestyle is characterized by indigenous peoples’ continuing practice of sustainable traditional livelihoods and low levels of consumption. We as indigenous peoples have preserved the biodiversity of our lands for hundreds of years by caring for nature and using it only in sustainable ways. Although indigenous peoples have contributed the least to climate change, it is in the areas where we live that the impacts of climate change are being felt most.

For thousands of years, indigenous peoples thrived by depending on diverse ecosystems for their nutrition, economic, cultural, social and spiritual experience. An ecosystem is an area that consists of organisms such as plants, animals, and even bacteria, interacting with one another and their non-living environment. Indigenous peoples share an intricate relationship with the ecosystems where they live:

  • Polar ecosystems
  • Dry and subhumid ecosystems which consists of the deserts and savannahs, arid and semiarid lands, grasslands, and Mediterranean landscapes
  • Forest ecosystems which include tropical and sub-tropical forests as well as boreal and temperate forests
  • High altitude and high montane ecosystems
  • Agricultural ecosystems
  • Coastal and low-lying areas and small-islands, inland water ecosystems
  • Wet plains
  • Mangrove areas

How exactly will climate change affect us?

Climate change has and will affect indigenous peoples in almost, if not, all aspects of our lives:

  • Massive floods, strong hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons and storm surges lead to the destruction of infrastructure (houses, bridges and roads), forests, agricultural lands, crops, livestock, marine and coastal resources; massive landslides; loss of freshwater supplies, increase of pathogenic micro-organisms and vectors of diseases, loss of electricity, etc.
  • These lead to human impacts such as physical isolation because of floods and massive landslides which reduce possibilities for them to market their crops, livestock, marine and coastal resources, etc.; the loss and destruction of ancestral lands, resources and homes, food insecurity and hunger (destruction of crops, destruction of coral reefs and mangroves, and spawning beds of local fish, decrease and loss of livestock, etc.); fresh water-insecurity; energy insecurity; increased prevalence and virulence of infectious diseases such as cholera, etc. Indigenous women and children are most at risk of weakening health and losing their lives.
  • More frequent and prolonged droughts and floods cause the disappearance of plant and animal species that have sustained indigenous peoples as subsistence food sources or as essential to their ceremonial life.
  • Extreme and unprecedented cold spells and prolonged wet environment results to health problems, such as hypothermia, bronchitis and pneumonia, especially among old people and young children. This puts indigenous women immobile for spending more time caring for sick family members and rendering them lesser time to engage in socio-political opportunities and to attend to their personal development.
  • Drop in water levels, drought, desertification and saltwater intrusion leads to more hunger and impoverishment. Water and food insecurity is exacerbated. As water collectors, indigenous women face inevitable conflicts over scarce water resource.
  • Traditional livelihoods ranging from rotational agriculture, hunting and gathering, pastoralism, high montane livestock and agricultural production, coastal and marine fishing, trapping, agro-forestry livelihoods, among others, are undermined because of climate change.
  • Adverse impacts on traditional livelihoods and their ecosystem will also mean loss of traditional knowledge, innovations and practices associated with these livelihoods and ecosystems.
  • Loss of revenue, economic opportunities and the practice of traditional culture are expected to increase the social and cultural pressures on indigenous peoples. The outmigration of indigenous youth and male heads of families to seek economic opportunities elsewhere because climate change has limited further their opportunities in their own communities, could lead to erosions of indigenous economies and culture. Indigenous women face the brunt of taking care and sustaining alone families left.
  • Increase in a number of indigenous persons who end up as environmental refugees or who outmigrate because their lands have gone underwater or have eroded due to landslides.
  • Capacities of indigenous women to perform their roles as seed-keepers, water bearers, transmitters of culture and language, among others, are undermined. At the same time, the burden of performing their productive and reproductive roles increases.
  • The loss or migration of culturally important species will make it more difficult for elders to practice and pass their traditional ecological knowledge to the next generation.

What have our governments done to address climate change?

Our governments are part of an agreement by almost all countries in the world to respond to climate change. This agreement is called the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC. It serves as the framework by which countries base their responses to climate change and it has been into force since 1994. However, with the realization that greenhouse gas emissions continued to rise around the world, the countries/ states or “Parties” of the UNFCCC, began negotiations to come up with a “firm and binding commitment by developed countries to reduce emissions.” The result of these negotiations was the Kyoto Protocol. Between 2008 and 2012, the Kyoto Protocol sets targets for industrialized countries to reduce their pollution and gives them flexibility on how they can reach these targets. In the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol, these industrialized countries are called the Annex 1 Parties.2 The explicit heavier burden placed on developed countries stems from the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.” This means that it is only fair to require more emission reductions from developed countries because they can afford to pay the cost of cutting emissions. Besides, these countries have historically contributed more in GHG emissions per person than in developing countries. There are different ways for people to avoid the serious impacts of climate change. The most important thing to do, is of course, to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases at source – which would be the industrialized countries.

What is being done to respond to climate change?

  • All the human interventions to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases is called Mitigation. Other examples of mitigation measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions include increasing automobile efficiency, increasing access to and use of public transportation, replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy, improving the insulation of buildings, among others.
  • Mitigation and adaptation are the main concerns of the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol. Adaptation will be discussed next in this booklet. In the Kyoto Protocol, the governments agreed on several mechanisms to be implemented by developed/ industrialized nations. These methods are called “market-based mitigation mechanisms” because it works like a buy and sell business. Remember that developed countries were given a carbon emissions target that they need to reach. Their goal is to lower their carbon emissions so that it reaches a certain level. When a country is able to this well, they end up with more reductions than their target. They are then given carbon credits. These carbon credits can then be sold in the market to those who were not able to reach their target. It’s really much more complicated, and this is just a simple way to explain the carbon market, but it’s good to understand how it works generally.
  • The market-based mechanisms included in the Kyoto Protocol are the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), Emissions Trading (ET) and Joint Implementation (JI). These market mechanisms seek to lower the costs of achieving emissions targets. The CDM allows developed countries to invest in projects in developing countries that are supposed to lower carbon in the air. These include projects such as oil palm plantations, or renewable energy sources. Projects also include those that enhance forests or “carbon sinks” through afforestation or reforestation. Similarly, through JI, developed countries can receive credit for investing in projects in other developed countries. Finally, emission trading allows the developed nations to trade credits among themselves.
  • The best way to mitigate climate change is to change the unsustainable production and consumption patterns which are still the prevalent system dominating this world. The best mitigation measures involve changing lifestyles, individually and collectively, and structurally changing the development path towards a sustainable and low-carbon one.
  • The market-based mechanisms are very limited. These just reinforce further the inequities which have been created by the unregulated market or the so-called free market instead of addressing the root causes of climate change. Thus, there is a need to ensure that the other building blocks of mitigation such as finance and technology transfer be implemented as agreed upon.
  • It is crucial for indigenous peoples to understand more fully these market-based mechanisms. Equipped with adequate information, they can evaluate the risks and opportunities which will allow them to make their own decisions on whether to engage with the emissions market or not.
  • The Conference of Parties or COP of the UNFCCC meets every year to review the Convention's progress. In 2007, at its 13th session in Bali, Indonesia, the COP came up with The Bali Action Plan. It was to identify the steps so that governments can come to an agreement about what to do with climate change after 2012. Remember that the Kyoto Protocol commitment period is from 2008 to 2012. What's also in the plan that is of interest to indigenous peoples is the inclusion of discussions on mitigating climate change through reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries. This is an issue that you will get to know later in this booklet, as REDD.

But what's being done as climate change is happening?

Coping with the impacts of climate change is called Adaptation.

  • It is about finding and implementing ways so that the impacts of climate change to humans and to the environment can be minimized.
  • Indigenous peoples have shown innovative adaptation measures in the different regions, using their traditional knowledge.
  • Some ways of adaptation include growing many different crops and varieties, changing hunting strategies to take advantage of new species while trying to manage the population of new species, change of hunting, fruit gathering, and fishing techniques, changing locations and other means.
  • For indigenous peoples, mitigation cannot be separated from adaptation. In the face of the different effects of climate change, indigenous peoples have been forced to adapt, using their traditional knowledge, innovations and practices in adjusting to these rapidly changing conditions.

Why should mitigation measures be a concern for indigenous peoples?

  • Sometimes the solutions that the industrialized countries are proposing and undertaking may not end up being very good, and it is most of the time at the expense of poor countries. An example is when forests in tropical countries where indigenous peoples live are converted to biofuel plantations. These plantations produce biofuels such as ethanol from sugarcane and biodiesel from oil palm and jathropa, which are supposed to be an alternative to fossil fuels. But they actually end up producing more carbon by cutting down the forest, developing the land, using fertilizers and pesticides, using more fossil fuels to transport and process these raw materials. And indigenous peoples who live and take care of the forest are often displaced by these projects.
  • Climate change mitigation is not only an issue of cutting down GHG emissions but also an issue of equity, social justice, human rights and sustainability. How will the world share the burden of decreasing GHG emissions? Who should be compensated for what? How will such measures affect the rights to water, food, shelter and health? These questions need to be asked when climate change mitigation measures are proposed.
  • Indigenous peoples have contributed significantly to and are still contributing a lot to the mitigation of GHG emissions because of their low-carbon to carbon-neutral ways of life. They have struggled to prevent extraction of oil, gas, and minerals from their territories as well as their fights against deforestation have kept the carbon under the ground and in the trees. Unfortunately, these contributions are not accounted for nor compensated in the emissions market. Thus, the principles of equity and sustainability are not really respected in this context.
  • It is bad enough that there are no mechanisms to recognize, account for and integrate indigenous peoples’ contributions to mitigation. But what is worst is the fact that some mitigation measures have led to the violation of indigenous peoples’ basic human rights. Some of the negative impacts of mitigation measures to indigenous peoples include violation of the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands, territories and resources, criminalization of practice of traditional livelihoods, propagation of false mitigation solutions, and increase in food prices resulting to more food insecurity. An example for this is when indigenous peoples' lands are forcefully taken from them in order for these lands to be converted to plantations as stated above.
  • From April 20 – 24, 2009, indigenous representatives from all over the world gathered in Anchorage, Alaska to exchange their knowledge and experience in adapting to the impacts of climate change, and to come up with key messages and recommendations which can be to be expressed when the UNFCCC meets for the fifteenth Conference of Parties (COP15) in Copenhagen, Denmark on December 2009. It was the first time that a meeting on climate change focused entirely on Indigenous Peoples ever happened.
  • In this meeting, indigenous representatives came up with the Anchorage Declaration which challenged states to “abandon false solutions to climate change that negatively impact Indigenous Peoples’ rights, lands, air, oceans, forests, territories and waters. These include nuclear energy, large-scale dams, geo-engineering techniques, 'clean coal,' agro-fuels, plantations, and market based mechanisms such as carbon trading, the Clean Development Mechanism, and forest offsets.” They also called on “... human rights of Indigenous Peoples to protect our forests and forest livelihoods ...[to].. be recognized, respected and ensured.
  • The inclusion of REDD ( Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) as a mitigating measure for climate change presents both threats and opportunities for indigenous peoples. While REDD, which is now being proposed to be part of the post 2012 climate agreement, may have some opportunities for indigenous peoples who live and depend on forests, the concept and manner in which it is being shaped and implemented pose some problems which have to be addressed seriously. Indigenous peoples fear that they will be excluded once more from their forests as what has happened in the establishment of Forest Protected Areas in the past. If their forests are designated as carbon forests and are used for emissions trading, there is a great possibility that they will be prevented from practicing their own traditional forest management practices and to use their forests for ceremonial purposes, shifting cultivation, as sources of timber and non-timber forest products and medicines, and other agro-forestry activities. You will read all about these and other discussion on REDD in the next section of this booklet.
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