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Indigenous Peoples Can Show the Path to Low-Carbon Living If Their Land Rights Are Recognized

Youba Sokona of Mali is co-chair of the IPCC Working Group III. Photo: Citt Williams, OurWorld2.0

 

Many indigenous peoples are living examples of societies thriving with sustainable, low-carbon lifestyles. Successfully meeting the global climate change challenge requires that much of the world shift from high carbon-living to low.

This shift is daunting. Current emissions for Australia and the United States average about 20 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person. In the coming decades that needs to fall to two tonnes per person as it is currently in Brazil or the Dominican Republic.

Emissions from most indigenous peoples are even lower and are amongst the lowest in the world.

All options for making the shift from high- to low-carbon living need to be explored and that’s why the United Nations University Traditional Knowledge Initiative (UNU) and  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) invited indigenous peoples to a special three-day workshop in Cairns, Australia last week.

“Climate change is the result of our behaviour,” said Youba Sokona, co-chair of the IPCC Working Group III that will report to governments in 2014 on ways carbon emissions can be reduced.

The IPCC is the world authority on climate, assessing the state of knowledge on the issue every five to six years. Traditional knowledge of local and indigenous peoples have been left out until now.

“One of the critical solutions is to change our behavior, to change our production and consumption systems,” said Sokona, a climate expert from the African nation of Mali.

The Climate Change Mitigation with Local Communities and Indigenous peoples workshop offered a number of “examples of local peoples in Siberia, in Australia, northern Canada and in some African countries demonstrating that it is possible to change our behavior,” he said.

Marilyn Wallace, a Kuku Nyungkal Aboriginal woman. Photo: Citt Williams, OneWorld 2.0

 

“I live in a shack but I love being on my ‘bubu’, my traditional land,” said Marilyn Wallace of the Kuku Nyungka ‘mob’ (tribe) in northern Queensland, Australia.

Wallace has lived in towns but fought for years to “return to country” and live in her tropical forest homeland 60 kilometers from Cooktown.

At the workshop Wallace and every other indigenous delegate focused on land rights. The simple truth is that if they can’t live on and manage their lands with time-tested traditional methods, they can’t be part of the solution to climate change.

“It is clear that rights, equity and ownership of land are crucial issues for indigenous peoples,” agreed Sokona.

While Sokona thought the workshop went well he was surprised at the laser-like focus on land rights issues.

“The IPCC has to talk about rights and culture. You cannot separate it from climate change,” said Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, Executive Director, Tebtebba(Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education).

Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, Executive Director, Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education and member of the indigenous Kankana-ey Igorot community in the Philippines. Photo: IISD

 

“The IPCC has been issuing major reports for 20 years now and things have only gotten worse. What does that say? It says it is not changing the way people behave or the systems that reinforce this,” said Tauli-Corpuz, a member of the indigenous Kankana-ey Igorot community in the Philippines.

Dealing with climate change means changing the current economic system that was created to dominate and extract resources from nature, she said.

“Modern education and knowledge is mainly about how to better dominate nature. It is never about how to live harmoniously with nature.”

“Living well is all about keeping good relations with Mother Earth and not living by domination or extraction.”

That kind of talk confused some participants looking for case studies, techniques and data on how to reduce carbon emissions. In the hallways one scientist complained that indigenous presentations lacked hard data and therefore nothing could be done with what they were presenting.

Even the physical workshop set up demonstrated the difference in worldviews. Held in the meeting rooms of a very nice Hilton Hotel, the speakers sat on a raised dais, looking down on participants sitting in rows classroom style. For many this echoed school systems that suppressed and continue to suppress traditional knowledge. When indigenous people discuss things everyone sits or stands in a circle. And people talk, especially elders, until they have said what they wish to convey no matter the time or schedule.

“The workshop was not structured to reflect the indigenous peoples’ way of sharing their knowledge,” said Tero Mustonen, Head of the Village of Selkie in North Karelia, Finland.

“If this is supposed to be an intercultural change, it did not work very well,” said Mustonen, who has a doctorate and has written scientific papers.

The IPCC’s structure is rigid, with an emphasis on technical information, he said. “Indigenous peoples’ worldview and traditional knowledge can’t be conveyed by numbers and charts.”

However, if the oral history of traditional people can be recognized as valid as science that would be a major breakthrough, said Mustonen.

“No one has all the answers,” said Jean Pierre Laurent, Ethnobotanist at TRAMIL (Traditional Medicines of the Islands) in the Caribbean nation of St Lucia.

Translating traditional knowledge into academic language is possible. “My role in St Lucia has been to bridge science and traditional knowledge,” said Laurent, who was raised on a farm there.

This UNU-sponsored workshop sends an important message to indigenous people to hold on to their traditional knowledge, he said.

And one indigenous person has a climate change message for those who are most responsible.

“Are the Europeans (industrialized nations) delivering climate mitigation from their heart? Are they ready to do that?” Wallace, an Aboriginal woman, asked.

“It was a hard journey for us to get back on our land. Now we say: “come and learn from us.”

 

Comments

  1. IHACC
    January 23, 2013, 12:06 pm

    [...] (Related: “Indigenous Peoples Can Show Path to Low-Carbon Living“) [...]

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  4. Chris Baulman
    Sydney Australia
    April 11, 2012, 12:57 am

    As land is the ultimate source of life, the land issue is fundamental in any consideration of human rights.

    An acknowledgement that the land has been taken over in ways that deny some basic human rights is needed.

    There also needs to be the recognition that, however wrongly white Australia took root, all Australians have equal rights.

    Next, given that neither traditional ways nor current lifestyles can be upheld as sustainable for our nation, a new way of relating to the land is urgently needed.

    Clearly qualifying rights and responsibilities to land in these terms would require government to support a suitable compact of mutual obligations.

    Government support would involve guarantee of the human right to “be” somewhere that can support a dignified existence, conditional upon living sustainably. No rights are ever unconditional.

    Government support would also be appropriate in training and remuneration for the essential work of developing sustainable communities which all Australians would benefit from.

    CDEP (Community Development Employment Programme)could be the mechanism, but CDEP has been seen only as a stepping stone to paid work – that should change. http://bit.ly/Azrz9F

    The emphasis needs to be upon rights and responsibilities in regard to the land needed to sustain life including to build shelter, to feed one’s self, to establish community and to live in a sustainable way.

    Management skills and the ownership of knowledge have also led to self-empowerment problems. This can be overcome through a better process of sharing and cooperation. One process for this style of community development is described at http://bit.ly/aP5b2D

    Twitter : @landrights4all

  5. cj
    April 10, 2012, 11:30 am

    great if you are taking care of a small tribe. We have 7 billion people

  6. [...] Indigenous Peoples Can Show the Path to Low-Carbon Living If Their Land Rights … Successfully meeting the global climate change challenge requires that much of the world shift from high carbon-living to low. This shift is daunting. Current emissions for Australia and the United States average about 20 tonnes of carbon dioxide per … Read more on National Geographic [...]

  7. Douglas Jack
    LaSalle-Montreal, Quebec, Canada, H8R 1X9
    April 5, 2012, 2:00 pm

    There is a pathology in the alienation all humans have been indoctrinated with against our worldwide ‘indigenous’ (Latin = ‘self-generating’) heritage. As ‘exogenous’ (L = ‘other-generated’) peoples invade or manipulate foreign peoples, they impose institutions to control mind and body, thus constantly diminishing the value of indigenous ways. Alienation carries forward over centuries evident in prejudices against such as ‘witches’ (‘wise-women’), ‘druids’ (Celtic = ‘wisdom of the oak’), ‘savages’ (L ‘sylva’ = ‘tree’) etc.
    Most indigenous peoples presently are living in areas remote rom their homelands in lowland villages and even large urban agglomerations. Read ‘1491’ by Charles C. Mann. Recovering humanity’s worldwide ‘indigenous’ heritage and reconnecting to our roots means rediscovering ourselves not just present peoples with indigenous knowledge. The 3-dimensional Polyculture orchards of indigenous peoples from Temperate and Tropical climates produce 100 times (10,000%) more food, materials, energy and other ecological resources than does 2-D ‘agriculture’ (L ‘ager’ = ‘field’) Read about this and much more in the 60 indigenous knowledge sections at http://www.indigenecommunity.info

  8. [...] Peoples Can Show the Path to Low-Carbon Living If  Their Land Rights Are Recognized  http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2012/04/04/indigenous-peoples-can-show-the-path-to-low-carbo…  National Geographic, by Stephen Leahy in Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples  April 4, [...]

  9. [...] Peoples Can Show the Path to Low-Carbon Living If  Their Land Rights Are Recognized   http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2012/04/04/indigenous-peoples-can-show-the-path-to-low-carbo…  National Geographic, by Stephen Leahy in Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples  April 4, [...]

  10. Helena
    April 4, 2012, 7:22 pm

    Greetings, it is my dream to learn the traditional indigenous knowledge of my native country of Colombia & then to pass it on. If anyone can help me with this endeavor I would be eternally grateful. Thank you.

  11. [...] Read original article here.  Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintMoreStumbleUponRedditDiggLinkedInLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in Climate Change, Environment, Indigenous Peoples, News. Bookmark the permalink. [...]