Resilience in a time of uncertainty: Indigenous peoples and climate change

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Lino Mamani, Potato Guardian at Peru’s Potato Park.

The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) organized Resilience in Times of Uncertainty: Indigenous people and climate change a pre-event in anticipation of the twenty-first Conference of Parties (COP21), hosted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The event took place in UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris, France from November 26 – 27, 2015.
Resilience in Times of Uncertainty: Indigenous people and climate change brought together indigenous leaders, non-profits, and government officials from around the world to discuss the impact that climate change is having on indigenous peoples.
An overarching theme of the event was the role that indigenous knowledge should play in the climate change conversation. Indigenous knowledge is “the information base for a society, which facilitates communication and decision-making.”[1] It is a dynamic collective knowledge, based on experience, often tested over centuries of use, and adapted to local culture and environment.[2]
Mr. Alejandro Argumedo from ANDES argued that indigenous knowledge offers a wealth of opportunity potential for adaptation. One example of indigenous knowledge at work comes from the International Network of Mountain Indigenous Peoples, where indigenous communities from around the world agreed to exchange seeds that are more resilient to droughts and pests.[3] Access to seeds that are resistant to drought and pests is important because growing global temperatures will increase the incidence of extreme events such as droughts and expand the range and capacity of pests.

One example of how climate change has forced indigenous people to adapt is Peru’s Potato Park. Mr. Lino Mamani is a potato guardian at Peru’s Potato Park. The Potato Park seeks to preserve Peru’s vast potato biocultural heritage. Mr. Mamani explained that heat had already forced the Potato Park to change where potatoes were previously grown, now being planted at higher altitudes for cooler temperatures.
However, there are limits to adaptation and indigenous knowledge. Mr. Álvaro Fernández-Llaneras, spoke about how climate change was accelerating at such a fast rate, that indigenous knowledge could not keep up with the environmental changes. Mr. Fernández-Llaneras conducted a study in the Tsimane Amazonian tribes of Bolivia where he studied the social collective knowledge and how it fared with scientific findings. Mr. Fernández-Llaneras found overlaps between indigenous knowledge and scientific knowledge. However, the rapid speed of climate change poses challenges for the adaptive capacity of local knowledge. His findings suggest that “local knowledge systems might not change at a rate quick enough to adapt to conditions of rapid ecosystem change, hence potentially compromising the adaptive success of the entire social-ecological system.”[4] To preserve this knowledge for the potential adaptive capacity contributions of indigenous knowledge and communities, we must find ways to mitigate our impact on the environment so as to decelerate the speed of climatic change.
[1] UNESCO, Indigenous Knowledge Best Practices Report, 10, 12 (Nov. 2002) (citing, Flavier et al. 1995:479).
[2] Id at 13 (citing, IIRR, Philippines, 1996. ‘Recording and using indigenous knowledge: a manual’).
[3] SciDevNet, Indigenous mountain farmers unite on climate change (Last Checked: Feb. 7, 2016), available at,
[4] Álvaro Fernández-Llaneras Onrubia, Indigenous knowledge of a changing environment: An ethnological perspective from Bolivian Amazonia, 126-7, 241 (Sept. 2015).

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