2-Pane Combined
Full Summaries Sorted

Climate Change Impacts on Indigenous Peoples

Many of the world's Indigenous Peoples face high risk of the adverse impacts of anthropogenic, or caused by human activity, climate change due to strong relationships with the environment and cultural ties to specific geographical regions. Many Indigenous communities rely on local natural resources for their livelihoods. Often marginalized in contemporary political systems, Indigenous communities have been instrumental in identifying and adapting to changes already underway in local ecosystems. Scientists and government leaders predict that global climate change will expose geographic areas primarily inhabited by Indigenous people to increased drought and wildfires, rising sea levels, melting sea ice and permafrost, catastrophic flooding, and loss of biodiversity, including the scarcity or extinction of animal and plant species.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimated the world's Indigenous population at 476 million people in 2023. Though Indigenous Peoples make up just over 6 percent of the world's population, they are stewards to 80 percent of global biodiversity. Many Indigenous people are in danger of becoming climate refugees, displaced by the effects of climate change and climate-related conflict, and compelled to leave their traditional lands in order to survive. These impacts include loss of productive grazing and agricultural land, increased food and water insecurity, and adverse health conditions. Many Indigenous people have taken leadership roles in combating the crisis at local, national, and international levels. Some highlight their unique perspectives and the potential to blend traditional knowledge and innovative technologies to increase the resilience of ecosystems and defend natural resources from unsustainable exploitation.


Since the mid-twentieth century, the international scientific community has increasingly highlighted the link between anthropogenic activities releasing massive quantities of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions into the atmosphere and the resulting increase in average global temperatures. The international community has also become increasingly concerned with pollution and global poverty. The 1992 United Nations (UN) Rio Declaration on Environment and Development highlighted the key role of Indigenous communities in managing environmental resources, given their traditional knowledge and cultural practices. The Rio Declaration, so named for the city in Brazil where it was issued, urged countries to recognize the importance of distinct Indigenous identity toward advancing sustainable development.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which entered into force in 1994, created the foundation for stabilizing GHG concentrations to limit the effects of climate change by requiring member states to reduce such emissions. Indigenous communities began participating in the UNFCCC negotiation process in 2000. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), adopted in 2007, included numerous articles that extended rights of the "survival, dignity, and well-being" of Indigenous Peoples in ways that related to the impacts of climate change and the importance of their inclusion in finding solutions.

The International Indigenous Peoples' Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC), established in 2008, represents the Indigenous Peoples' Caucus within the UNFCCC framework. The IIPFCC includes Indigenous representatives from seven social and cultural regions: Asia, the Pacific, Africa, the Arctic, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, and Russia and Eastern Europe. A 2018 report released by the IIPFCC and the Center for International Environmental Law noted that more than sixty decisions adopted by the UNFCCC and subsidiary bodies made specific reference to Indigenous Peoples and traditional knowledge.


Global climate change threatens Indigenous Peoples living in nearly every ecosystem. However, the effects vary greatly by region. Drylands are one of the environments most stressed by climate change. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2021 Special Report Climate Change and Land noted that the measurable effects of climate change on drylands include warming temperatures, changing precipitation patterns that cause extreme drought, desertification, and water scarcity, along with increased pest infestations and plant diseases. These effects lead to reductions in animal health and productivity in pastoral systems and lower crop yields or crop failure, which increase food insecurity in parts of Africa, Asia, and South America.

The Indigenous Peoples that inhabit the world's drylands have survived for centuries by adapting to erratic water availability in the harsh climates where they live. The Maasai are a large Indigenous group with an estimated population of between five hundred thousand and one million people. Traditional semi-nomadic pastoralists, Maasai groups reside in modern-day southern Kenya and northern Tanzania in Eastern Africa, in an area of around 160,000 square kilometers (61,800 square miles) consisting primarily of drylands. The Maasai rely on livestock for dietary sustenance, community relationships, income, and trade.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), climate change factors have caused an increase in transborder migration by Maasai Peoples forced to herd their livestock greater distances in search of pastureland and water resources. Humanitarian agencies observed that competition for reduced or scarce resources have escalated into violent conflict among the Maasai and other groups. Many Maasai have given up nomadic traditions and identity to permanently settle and grow crops for subsistence and income. East Africa faced catastrophic drought starting in October 2020, causing widespread livestock deaths and crop failures threatening some 150 million people in the region, including the Maasai. The situation grew increasingly desperate, generating an influx of refugees from Somalia and South Sudan seeking relief in Kenya and Ethiopia, countries also severely stressed by drought. World Weather Attribution, a network of scientists that identify direct links between weather events and anthropogenic climate change, reported in April 2023 that extreme droughts were up to one hundred times more likely as a result of human-induced climate change; such events would likely not occur if average global temperatures had not risen by 1.2 C (2.2 F) due to massive GHG emissions since the industrial era.

Indigenous Peoples living in or near tropical rainforests of South America, Africa, Central America, and Asia also face challenges from global climate change, including loss of habitat and decreased biodiversity. Scientists predict that global climate change will produce longer dry periods in tropical rainforests, which will result in more frequent and catastrophic wildfires. Along with deforestation for agriculture and logging, wildfires reduce the rainforest habitat and biodiversity that Indigenous Peoples who live in or near rainforests rely upon for food and trade. The Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), which uses satellite technology to monitor forest cover in the five Amazon countries of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, reported in 2022 that nearly one-third of the eastern Amazon forest biome, located primarily in Brazil, has been destroyed due to deforestation and wildfires. Of the estimated 1.5 million Indigenous people living in the Amazon basin region, 60 percent reside in Brazil.

Global climate change has already caused disruption to the lives of the Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic. The rapid warming of the Arctic—the region encompassing the Arctic Ocean and surrounding areas, including parts of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Siberia—altered conditions for the estimated 160,000 Inuit Peoples who have adapted for centuries to the extreme cold and ecosystems of the region. Many Inuit groups are semi-nomadic fishers and hunters who historically tracked along the edge of the sea ice. Indigenous Peoples note that the effects of warming in the Arctic have already resulted in changes in long-established seasonal patterns. However, some of these changes have not been immediately detrimental to Indigenous communities. For example, earlier spring melting gives Inuit hunters a longer season in which to hunt beluga whales, and boat travel may be easier with less ice.

Despite creating some advantages, climate change poses outcomes that will forever alter Indigenous cultural traditions and livelihoods. Walruses, Arctic cod, polar bears, and other species in the Arctic face extinction or a catastrophic decline in population. Sea-level rise inundates coastal areas. Melting of permafrost, or permanently frozen subsoil, destabilizes structures and renders roads impassable by converting them to rivers of mud, compromising human infrastructure, including water sources. With Arctic melting and unstable ice conditions, hunting areas become more difficult to access and harvesting wildlife more dangerous. In 2022, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced the allocation of US$135 million to aid eleven Indigenous tribes in the United States that were vulnerable to the effects of climate change with voluntary relocation and assistance building long-term climate


Indigenous Peoples' climate change activism is tied to cultural survival, as well as with human rights, justice, self-determination, and land tenure. Indigenous communities are responsible for the least amount of GHG emissions but they generally face many of the direct effects of climate change, including displacement, extreme poverty, and vulnerability to malnutrition and disease. The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has described how the consequences of political and economic marginalization of Indigenous Peoples exacerbate the climate crisis. Marginalization of Indigenous Peoples often includes discrimination, human rights violations, and exploitation of natural resources.

Indigenous activists have attempted to defend land from mining or logging operations, oil and gas extraction, slash-and-burn clearing of forests for palm oil plantations, and cattle ranching. Human rights monitors report that many Indigenous rights activists have been persecuted and murdered, with two hundred killings in 2021, according to human rights monitor Global Witness. Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, and the Philippines proved the most dangerous countries for Indigenous land defenders that year. Armed groups have violently dispossessed many Indigenous communities of their lands and natural resources for large-scale agricultural and extractive practices. These new land uses pose severe environmental impacts to ecosystems while releasing large amounts of GHGs into the atmosphere and thus increase the risk of drought, wildfires, and zoonotic diseases.

The twenty-seventh annual meeting of the UNFCCC, known as Conferences of the Parties (COP27), was held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2021 and featured the highest-ever number of Indigenous participants. Representatives of the Indigenous Caucus reiterated the critical need for clear acknowledgement of Indigenous Peoples' rights in prevailing international climate treaties and participation of Indigenous negotiators in key policy meetings. In a statement, Indigenous spokesperson Cristina Coc (1981–) asserted that Indigenous rights must be respected and that Indigenous land stewardship and traditional knowledge have proven track records of sustainability. The statement also listed key areas of concern, including the critical need for the integration of Indigenous perspectives in generating adaptation strategies and building resilience, and the need for dedicated funding and government transparency. During its closing statement, the Indigenous Caucus expressed disappointment at world leaders' continued reliance on market-driven solutions, which the caucus asserted were not sufficient to effectively limit global warming to below 1.5°C (2.7°F), avoiding the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.

DMU Timestamp: February 17, 2024 22:33

0 comments, 0 areas
add area
add comment
change display
add comment

Quickstart: Commenting and Sharing

How to Comment
  • Click icons on the left to see existing comments.
  • Desktop/Laptop: double-click any text, highlight a section of an image, or add a comment while a video is playing to start a new conversation.
    Tablet/Phone: single click then click on the "Start One" link (look right or below).
  • Click "Reply" on a comment to join the conversation.
How to Share Documents
  1. "Upload" a new document.
  2. "Invite" others to it.

Logging in, please wait... Blue_on_grey_spinner