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Indigenous Knowledge and Climate Change

Global science-policy interface

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are the two UN intergovernmental bodies tasked with the responsibility of working towards international policies for action on climate change; the IPCC through providing state of the art assessments of what is known about climate change, its impacts and scenarios for action, and the UNFCCC by providing a forum for concerted global action.

In recent years there has been a growing awareness that scientific knowledge alone is inadequate for solving the climate crisis. In the face of global climate change and its emerging challenges and unknowns, it is essential that decision-makers base policies and actions on the best available knowledge. Indigenous knowledge forms part of the knowledge base and is already seen as pivotal in fields such as sustainable development, agroforestry, traditional medicine, applied anthropology, biodiversity conservation and natural resource management.

At the global level, the LINKS programme promotes recognition of indigenous knowledge in climate change and biodiversity science-policy.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the international body for assessing the science related to climate change. IPCC reports provide the scientific basis by which governments may take decisions to address climate change. In 2009 the IPCC looked at indigenous knowledge in its Fifth Assessment Report on climate change impacts, vulnerability and adaptation. Released in 2014, the Fifth Assessment Report’s Summary for Policymakers supported the importance of indigenous knowledge as a foundation for adaptation and recognized that these have currently not been used in adaptation.

Adaptation planning and implementation at all levels of governance are contingent on societal values, objectives, and risk perceptions (high confidence). Recognition of diverse interests, circumstances, social-cultural contexts, and expectations can benefit decision-making processes. Indigenous, local, and traditional knowledge systems and practices, including indigenous peoples’ holistic view of community and environment, are a major resource for adapting to climate change, but these have not been used consistently in existing adaptation efforts. Integrating such forms of knowledge with existing practices increases the effectiveness of adaptation. (IPCC, 2014)


Key resources and contributions

  • Ford, J.D., Cameron, L., Rubis, J., Maillet, M., Nakashima, D., Willox, A.C. and Pearce, T., 2016. Including indigenous knowledge and experience in IPCC assessment reports. Nature Climate Change, 6(4), pp.349-353.
  • Weathering Uncertainty, a UNESCO and UNU publication that reviews key literature and research on indigenous knowledge and climate change
    Nakashima, D.J., Galloway McLean, K., Thulstrup, H.D., Ramos Castillo, A. and Rubis, J.T. 2012. Weathering Uncertainty: Traditional Knowledge for Climate Change Assessment and Adaptation. Paris, UNESCO, and Darwin, UNU, 120 pp
  • IPCC, UNESCO and UNU-TKI, together with UNDP and CBD convened an international experts workshop in 2011 to bring together indigenous peoples and local community knowledge holders and experts, developing country scientists and members of IPCC WG II

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) seeks to 'stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system.' Discussions at the UNFCCC, such as the 2015 Paris Agreement, are the basis for international climate change norms.

The 2015 Paris Agreement recognizes the role of indigenous knowledge in adaptation:

"... adaptation action should follow a country-driven, gender-responsive, participatory and fully transparent approach, taking into consideration vulnerable groups, communities and ecosystems, and should be based on and guided by the best available science and, as appropriate, traditional knowledge, knowledge of indigenous peoples and local knowledge systems ..."
(Paris Agreement, Article 7-5)

And the Decision adopting the Paris Agreement establishes a local communities and indigenous peoples platform to strengthen indigenous knowledge:

"Recognizes the need to strengthen knowledge, technologies, practices and efforts of local communities and indigenous peoples related to addressing and responding to climate change, and establishes a platform for the exchange of experiences and sharing of best practices on mitigation and adaptation in a holistic and integrated manner;"
(decision 1/CP 21, paragraph 136)

Prior to the Paris Agreement, UNFCCC discussions on indigenous knowledge could be found:

  • in REDD+, a key requirement is the respect for indigenous peoples' knowledge and rights, as well as their participation
  • in the Cancun Adaptation Framework, and in discussions under the Adaptation Committee, Nairobi Work Programme on Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation, and within the guidelines for formulation and implementing NAPs
  • under the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, loss of indigenous knowledge is recognized as a non-economic loss due to climate change


Contributions and resources

UNESCO conferences on indigenous knowledge and climate change provide a platform for deepening global understanding of indigenous knowledge relevant for climate change assessment and action. Foremost experts and knowledge holders from indigenous peoples, researchers and governments come together to share and exchange knowledge, including good practices, lessons and methodologies for how climate action and science can be reinforced by the inclusion of indigenous knowledge.

Over the years, these conferences have been supported by Sweden, Japan, Denmark and France, and co-organized with indigenous peoples organizations, research bodies and fellow UN organizations.


Marrakech, 2016

The conference aimed to bring together experts, researchers and scientists from indigenous peoples, local communities and governments. Speakers provided testimonies on how local communities are grappling with impacts of climate change and consequently their efforts to adapt.

They also shared case studies highlighting how indigenous and local knowledge can be sources of renewed understanding, resilience, and resistance.

The conference was organized by UNESCO and the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS-France), in partnership with Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee and Tebtebba.

Book of abstracts and bionotes of participants
Agenda     Photos


Paris, 2015

The purpose of the conference is to bring together not only indigenous peoples but also the experts, scientists and researchers who engage in the study and observation on the indigenous knowledge and local communities. Indigenous peoples, scientists and governments are invited to a transdisciplinary dialogue to better understand the role that indigenous and local knowledge can play, alongside science, in observing and responding to the impacts of a changing climate.


The objectives of the conference were;

  • To create a transdisciplinary exchange of knowledge and experiences amongst indigenous peoples, governments, and scientists;
  • To understand the contributions that diverse knowledge systems, such as indigenous knowledge, can make to reinforce the climate change knowledge base;
  • To highlight practical community-based solutions and initiatives to address the impacts of climate change;
  • To reinforce the links between cultural diversity and the sustainability of the global environment.

The conference was co-organised by UNESCO and the National Museum of Natural History of France in partnership with Tebtebba, with support from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs , Sorbonne University, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Japanese funds-in-trust to UNESCO, National Research Agency of France, and Conservation International.

Book of abstracts and bionotes of participants
Agenda     Photos



Mexico City, 2011

"Indigenous Peoples, Marginalized Populations and Climate Change: Vulnerability, Adaptation and Traditional Knowledge," the workshop aimed to identify, compile and analyse relevant indigenous and local observations, knowledge and practices related to understanding climate change impacts, adaptation and mitigation.

Representatives of indigenous peoples and marginalized populations, natural and social scientists, and other experts in relevant domains came togeter to ensure that experience, sources of information and knowledge (scientific, indigenous and local), along with data and literature (scientific and grey), focusing on vulnerable and marginalized regions of the world was made available to the authors of the IPCC 5th Assessment Report and the global community. 

The workshop was co-organized by UNESCO-LINKS with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), United Nations University (UNU), Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 

Available documents: 

Background note

Workshop report

Weathering Uncertainty -- a literature review that arose out of the workshop