The Role of Indigenous Peoples in Combating Climate Change

  • Citation: Etchart, L. The role of indigenous peoples in combating climate change. Palgrave Commun 3, 17085 (2017).
    • Topics:
    • Transnational Issues
    • Keywords:
    • Central America
    • indigenous peoples
    • climate change
    • Amazonian region
    • forest dwellers. intergovernmental climate change negotiations

Until the twenty-first century, indigenous peoples were viewed as victims of the effects of climate change, rather than as agents of environmental conservation. Representatives of indigenous peoples have in fact since 2008 been actively seeking a role in contributing to combating climate change through their participation in international environmental conferences, as well as by means of activism and political engagement at local and national levels. Using examples from the Amazonian region in the east of Ecuador, home to indigenous communities such as the Huaorani, Sápara and Sarayaku Kichwa originary peoples, this article argues that indigenous peoples, particularly forest dwellers, have a dual role in combating climate change. First, colonized forest peoples have continued to resist the occupation and deforestation of lands they have lived in for centuries; second, a number of indigenous forest communities have since the 1990s become aware of their responsibility to protect the forests in the interests of combating climate change. They have recognized the potential for their having decision-making power at a local and global level that may contribute to saving the planet. In the last 10 years indigenous peoples’ representatives have been collectively engaged in lobbying for inclusion in intergovernmental climate change negotiations and to have decision-making power at the United Nations. This comment calls for international support from governments and civil society from both North and South, at the United Nations and at other international fora, to uphold the rights of indigenous peoples—enshrined in international law—who wish to prevent incursions into their territory for the extraction of fossil fuels. Moreover, it calls on governments, (I)NGOs, and private companies engaged in the extractive industries, and in other processes of modernization and development, to respect the right of indigenous peoples not to develop and to choose for themselves the level of their integration into the global economy and polity. The choice not to develop, not to have access to the modern world through roads, for example, is itself a contribution to protecting the rainforest and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This article draws on existing scholarly literature on the Ecuadorian Amazonian indigenous peoples, primary research among Huaorani and Sarayaku Kichwa communities of Eastern Ecuador 2016–2017, and documents from the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) 26 April—6 May 2017. The aim is to provide policymakers, and those to whom they are accountable, with knowledge and understanding to improve decision-making in the interests of citizens and the environment.

Related Resources