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Climate Change and Indigenous People

Why Should the Commonwealth Focus on Indigenous People?

Approximately one-third of the world’s Indigenous peoples live in the Commonwealth, across Asia, the Caribbean and Americas, Africa, the Pacific and Europe. With that in mind, to govern effectively nations must recognize the oftentimes unique positions of Indigenous people within the broader society they live in and the specific challenges they face and their causes. One of the defining characteristics of the commonwealth in comparison to other international and multilateral institutions is that it is premised on the concept of consensus. While literal consensus will never be perfectly reached across a country, to disregard or sideline the needs and views of Indigenous people is in direct contrast to the core principle of consensus and equality. 

At the same time, when addressing climate change it is essential to not only recognize but truly listen to solutions indigenous people bring forward. All too often, Indigenous people, their thoughts and knowledge are relegated to the peripheries of discourse. Especially in settler-colonial states, it is wise to recall that Indigenous people utilized the land sustainably for millennia before the European arrival and while the world has certainly changed, traditional Indigenous approaches to the world are key for real progress in the fight against climate change. 

How Does the Commonwealth Support Indigenous People?

“We are extremely proud that through our Commonwealth Common Earth programme, we have been able to showcase the potential of indigenous knowledge to generate a remarkable and growing range of sustainable and practical climate solutions, in areas such as agriculture, natural resource management, weather prediction and biodiversity conservation.” - Secretary-General Patricia Scotland

An example is in Guyana where the Macushi tribe continues to promote their nature-based way of life, including through the work of the Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development, jointly founded by the Government of Guyana and the Commonwealth Secretariat.

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