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OPINION: Indigenous knowledge is essential to solving the climate crisis

Monday, 9 August 2021 16:58 GMT

Adivasi tribals are see during a celebration on the occasion of International Day of the World's Indigenous People, in a forest in Mumbai, India, August 9, 2020. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In Chad, our way of life gives space to nature to regenerate - when we leave a piece of land, it’s more fertile than before, thanks to our ancestral agroecological practices

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim is president of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad, a U.N. Sustainable Development Goals Advocate and Conservation International Senior Fellow.

This year we have seen the deadly impacts of climate change hit places that were not prepared: historic raging wildfires and megadroughts in the Western United States, heatwaves in Canada, floods in Germany and China, hurricanes in the Caribbean.

And now the IPCC AR6 report, on the physical science of climate change and its impacts, pinpoints humanity’s role in driving extreme weather events with more accuracy and certainty than ever before. It warns about further heat, more floods and increased drought - and suggests that some irreversible changes have already happened, while others are on the horizon.

For indigenous peoples and local communities, none of this is surprising. I am a proud member of Chad’s pastoral Mbororo community, and in my country average temperatures have already increased beyond the 1.5°C Paris Agreement threshold. Climate change is adding to poverty every day, with drought, floods and desertification becoming the new reality. Shrinking natural resources lead to conflicts between farmers, cattle herders and fishermen – some turning deadly – as people fight to provide food for their families.

Today’s extreme and unpredictable weather is inflicting a terrible humanitarian crisis around the world and the communities in Africa’s Sahel region. My elders no longer recognize the seasons, and I have seen the devastating impacts first-hand.  Since I was born in the early 1980s, when Lake Chad was one of Africa’s five largest fresh-water reservoirs sustaining pastoralists like my community, almost 90% has disappeared in my lifetime. Our dry seasons are longer, rain has become rarer and rarer, the impact on our daily lives is very real. Our very survival is at stake.

And the Mbororo are not alone. Indigenous communities in the Pacific face extinction from rising sea levels. The protectors of the Amazon are under assault from corporate-driven deforestation and fires. And now, COVID 19 is also devastating our communities. The result has been insecurity, instability, conflict and displacement, with grave implications for every country and region.


Indigenous peoples and local communities have been some of the worst affected by climate impacts, but we also have the solutions. Indigenous peoples make up only 5% of the world’s population, yet they protect around 80% of the world’s biodiversity. Together, these communities manage 25% of the Earth’s land surface and a third of the carbon stored in tropical forests. We are guardians of nature: there is no route to a safe climate that does not include recognition and support for our communities.

For the world to find a path out of these crises will depend on acknowledging and putting into practice indigenous knowledge and land management. Scientists recognize that nature-based solutions are an indispensable tool in the climate fight, and that restoring and preventing the further destruction of degraded ecosystems and improving farming could achieve at least 30% of the mitigation action needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement by 2030. They also recognise that biodiversity and ecosystems are better protected in indigenous-managed areas.

My community is a people of nomadic cattle herders that have learned, from centuries of living in harmony with nature, that protecting nature is investing in our children’s future. We stay for two or three days in one location, while our cattle migration restores fragile ecosystems and their dung fertilizes the land. We have extensive knowledge about the local flora and fauna, and we gather information about the impact climate change is having on them. Our way of life follows the rhythm of seasons and gives space to nature to regenerate. When we leave a piece of land, it’s more fertile than before, thanks to our ancestral agroecological practices.

Here in Chad’s Sahel region, I developed a participatory mapping approach to leverage indigenous knowledge and nature-based solutions to protect and share fresh-water resources, identify drought-resistant crops, and help combat climate change and desertification through sustainable pastoralism.

The ultimate benefit is more communities will be able to adapt and reduce the risk of climate change-related conflicts. This will benefit indigenous peoples, women, the Sahel region, and the entire world. This not only helps to avoid conflict - it also ensures land is used sustainably and ecosystems are protected.

This year is critical for rebuilding our relationship with nature, coming together to harness the power of diverse sources of knowledge for climate action. The UN climate COP26 must deliver an updated framework to keep the 1.5 Paris Agreement in sight, and the UN biodiversity summit must produce a plan to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030. This cannot be achieved without credible commitments and policies to cut emissions, as well as rich nations delivering the $100 billion in climate finance for the developing world -  including to indigenous people and local communities.

Any meaningful progress on saving our climate and global biodiversity requires both political and financial support of indigenous peoples and local communities. A successful COP26 would include a public-private commitment of an initial $1 billion to boost investment and capacity for indigenous led nature-based solutions. This would enable both the protection and management of their forests and ecosystems, and would advance human rights and social inclusion in the face of climate impacts.

It is time to learn from us, and to partner with us, so that together we can help save the planet for everyone.