Human Journey

Climate Scientists to Attend Native Knowledge ‘Boot Camp’ in Australia

Marlon Santi, President of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), at COP 17 UN climate conference in Durban. Photo: Stephen Leahy


In what may be a ‘clash of worldviews,’ representatives from indigenous and local communities are holding a climate workshop with physicists, computer modellers, and other climate scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in Cairns, Australia 26-28 March.

This is a unique opportunity for Native peoples to discuss their traditional knowledge and experiences as it relates to climate change.

Indigenous peoples are amongst the most affected by current and future climate change but their experiences and knowledge have largely been ignored by science experts at the IPCC. The workshop, Climate Change Mitigation with Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples: Practices, Lessons Learned and Prospects, is a significant effort to change this.

There are an estimated 350 million indigenous peoples according to the United Nations. They legally own more than 11% of the world’s forests and those coincide with areas that hold up to 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. Traditional knowledge is a different but no less valid way of understanding the world. However, very few scientists of the thousands who have worked with the IPCC have any experience with traditional knowledge.

The IPCC is working on its next big report (to be released in 2014) and has acknowledged that its Fifth Assessment Report needs to look at how climate change will impact indigenous peoples, their role in reducing carbon emissions (mitigation) and what barriers they face in adapting to current and future climate impacts.

The Cairns workshop will focus on how indigenous peoples can help reduce global carbon emissions. It  is being held in collaboration with the IPCC, indigenous organizations, the United Nations University (UNU), the Australian government and others.

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An international environmental journalist for more than 20 years, Stephen Leahy has been published in dozens of publications around the world: National Geographic News, The Guardian (UK), Vice, New Scientist, Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS), Al Jazeera, Mo Magazine (Brussels), TerraGreen (India), Toronto Star, China Dialogue (UK), Earth Island Journal, The London Sunday Times, Wired News, BBC Wildlife. Stephen was a co-winner of the 2012 Prince Albert/United Nations Global Prize for reporting on Climate Change, and the author of Your Water Footprint: The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use To Make Everyday Products (Winner Best Science Book 2014)
  • Ruth Herd

    My uncle attended an indigenous environmental conference in Mexico over 30 years ago. He came home with warnings about the ozone layer and deforestation will have huge impacts on all the worlds population. If the world’s scientists weren’t listening then and have trouble themselves being heard now, we are all going to pay the price for the greedy few. I might also point out that whatever impacts on indigenous people also impacts on the dominant majority. Next time you buy an upgraded model of a iphone, laptop or get on a plane. Pay the carbon credits to reduce the harm you are doing to the environment. I havent upgraded my phone for years and I will only upgrade my work equipment as need dictates, not wants. Tiakina te Taiao. The environment and our life essence are entwined.

  • Ruth, thanks for your thoughtful note. In speaking to some scientists here in Cairns today seems they are keen to listen and learn. More in coming posts.

  • Tyne Schneider

    Our end is your downfall (the Hopi)

  • Jasmine C

    How does the impact of change effect indigenous peoples?

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