No climate change solution without listening to the voices of the indigenous peoples

In Kenya and Tanzania, climate change is already causing both drought and floods. This has meant increasing scarcity of suitable land for farming and pasture and a decrease in food security.  It has also increased the number of conflicts between pastoralists and other land users, seriously impacting the security situation.  

On top of this, indigenous peoples have already experienced forced evictions in relation to projects under the Clean Development Mechanism and other climate change interventions.

This clearly demonstrated how indigenous peoples are affected twice: by climate change itself, as well as by the actions States chose to address climate change. 

“If human rights are not at the centre of a climate change agreement, the most marginalised are once again at the losing end”, explains Mr. Edward Porokwa, Maasai from Tanzania and Executive Director of the Indigenous pastoralist network, Pingos Forum.

Traditional adoption strategies are criminalised
At the same time, indigenous peoples’ options for adapting to climate change have been seriously limited. States make regulations that do not allow indigenous peoples to use their traditional adaptation strategies, such as for pastoralists to use wider migration areas. Seasonal livestock migration is for example limited by boundaries established for protected areas and pastoralists are criminalised if they try to pass through.

“We cannot solve the problem of climate change by ignoring the rights of indigenous peoples. Ignoring human rights and implementing mitigations and adaptation actions with negative human rights impacts on indigenous peoples will also present a risk for the project, as it will further marginalise indigenous peoples and induce or reinforce conflicts,”  says Joseph Ole Simel, Maasai from Kenya and Director of MPIDO, an indigenous NGO working to improve the rights of pastoralists

States already have human rights obligations - now they must listen 
At a COP21 side event on Human Rights Based Approaches and the Roles of Indigenous Peoples in Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation in Tanzania and Kenya, indigenous peoples’ representatives called for the recognition of States’ human rights obligations, including the rights of indigenous peoples.

 “We are not asking for something new here, we are just asking for States to adhere to their commitments that they have already made” says Dr. Albert Barume, who as a member of the Expert Mechanism on Indigenous Peoples Rights (EMRIP) and the Working Group on Indigenous Populations of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights has been following indigenous peoples’ rights discussions at international and regional level for many years.

Joseph Ole Simel cannot see any solution for the climate change crisis without listening to the voices of the indigenous peoples. He stresses that indigenous peoples have used the lands and natural resources for thousands of years and have not destroyed the environment. They have contributed the least to climate change but can contribute with their traditional knowledge to solutions for a sustainable development – if only decision makers starts to listen.

"We came to this COP21 with the impression that the family of nations will provide a solution not only for us but also for generations to come. But for them to do that they must open their space to listen to us, understand where we are coming from, how we are suffering, and what the solutions are for today and for tomorrow," says Joseph Ole Simel.

Tags: Climate action


IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. The Indigenous World 2019.

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