Native people and climate change

By Nadia Isaac – Aug 16, 2021

Native people are the first to experience the consequences of climate change due to their cultural dependence on the environment and its resources. Climate change worsens the hardships indigenous communities face, including political and economic marginalization, loss of land and resources, human rights violations, discrimination, and unemployment.

  • Native people in the Kalahari Desert are forced to live around government drilled bores for water and depend on government support for their survival due to rising temperatures, dune expansion, and increased wind speeds. These climate changes have resulted in a loss of vegetation and have negatively impacted traditional cattle and goat farming practices.
  • In the Himalayas, glacial melts affect millions of people living in rural areas who depend on the water flow, resulting in more water in the short term but less in the long run as glaciers and snow cover diminish.
  • In the Amazon, the effects of climate change include deforestation and forest fragmentation. Therefore, more carbon is released into the atmosphere creating more changes. Droughts cause fires in the western Amazon region, having a huge effect on the livelihoods of the native people in the region.
  • Native people in the Arctic region depend on hunting polar bears, walrus, seals and caribou, herding reindeer, fishing and gathering not only for food but also to support the local economy. The change in species and availability of traditional food sources pose severe challenges to human health and food security and are concerns for native people.

The territories of the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples cover 24% of land worldwide and contain 80% of the world’s biodiversity (Sobrevila, 2008; IPS, 2017). Indigenous peoples occupy the sites of precious natural resources and protect forests. In addition, many indigenous peoples have lived sustainable lives for decades, feeding themselves without damaging the environment. 

Since 2013, indigenous leaders have met at international conferences to join forces in solidarity and call for their rights to be respected under national and international law. They stand for both human rights and environmental rights. If indigenous communities successfully gain control of their territories, they can preserve their customs, traditions, and way of life.

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