Key Issues

Climate change impacts

Indigenous peoples (IP) are among the first to face the direct consequences of climate change. Given their widespread reliance on natural resources and ecosystems, indigenous peoples and local communities are especially vulnerable to, and disproportionately impacted by, its effects. Changes in temperature or rainfall can have an outsized effect on these communities, resulting in loss of land or resources, or in the worst of cases, even violent conflict.  

Read more on indigenous peoples and climate change from the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.


Indigenous peoples all over the world are feeling the effects of climate change. Some communities in the Arctic and small island developing states are already facing forced relocation of whole communities due to melting permafrost and rising sea levels, causing serious humanitarian crises. These impacts will likely soon spread to other low lying coastal areas, water stressed landscapes, and areas vulnerable to increased storm severity, which can be found in all regions.

The initial list of potentially eligible adaptation activities is extensive, as impacts of climate change will be felt in many sectors; and adaptation and resilience measures may be needed across an even broader range of issues, including capacity building and readiness support, health, education, documentation of traditional knowledge, climate monitoring and reporting, disaster preparation, response and early warning systems, sustainable agriculture, protecting and restoring forests, coastal marine management, alternative livelihoods, relocation and resettlement planning and execution, etc.


Indigenous people are not a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, nevertheless significant reserves of oil, gas, minerals, etc. can be found on IP ancestral lands. This implies that no mitigation obligations are mandatory under the UNFCCC for IPs as part of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) currently being prepared by parties. In tropical forest countries that have a high mitigation potential for land based emissions, IPs can play a key role in stopping deforestation quickly through land titling, community forestry and local governance strengthening.

Mitigation activities for IPs include: capacity building and readiness support, land titling, forest conservation, forest management, agro-forestry, sustainable agriculture, alternative livelihoods, national policy and legal reform, local governance strengthening, alternative energy development, local sanitation and waste treatment, etc.

When considering mitigation, it must be acknowledged that IPs in some countries are negatively affected by renewable energy projects such as the expanded use of bio-fuels, or largescale infrastructure projects such as hydroelectric dams.


In an effort to empower indigenous peoples to continue with effective adaptation and mitigation of climate change, parties to the UNFCCC should establish a dedicated fund to be directly accessed and managed by indigenous peoples from developing and developed countries to enhance and further develop adaptation capacities and to strengthen traditional knowledge and livelihoods, which have been sustained for generations but are now threatened by climate change.

Recognition of indigenous peoples rights

The position of indigenous peoples are linked to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. In developing strategies to address climate change, the 2014 World conference for Indigenous Peoples (WCIP) confirms “indigenous peoples’ knowledge and strategies to sustain their environment should be respected and taken into account when we develop national and international approaches to climate change mitigation and adaptation.” This rights based approach is an essential framework in addressing climate change.

Full and effective participation and FPIC

“Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) is one of the most important principles that Indigenous Peoples believe can protect their right to participation. It is embedded in the right to self-determination. The duty of States to obtain Indigenous Peoples’ FPIC entitles Indigenous people to effectively determine the outcome of decision-making that affects them, not merely a right to be involved.”
UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

FPIC is a standard protected by international human rights law that states that “all people have the right to self-determination” and “all peoples have the right to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” As world leaders converge to address climate change, there must be full and effective participation of indigenous peoples at various levels of decision-making to ensure genuine representation. Governments, business leaders, and climate change experts must respect the FPIC principles in designing, implementing, monitoring the development projects related to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Recognition of traditional knowledge

It is essential to respect the traditional knowledge indigenous peoples bring to address causes, adaptation, mitigations, and solutions to climate change. IPs are committed to protect, use and apply traditional knowledge and practices to implement solutions and ways to adapt to climate change within IP Nations and communities. Climate change solutions cannot not be limited to Western scientific knowledge, but must include indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge, innovations and practices, which have historically contributed to the efforts of conservation of ecosystems and biodiversity.

UNFCCC negotiation positions, past and present