Mobilizing local and indigenous knowledge for climate change observations and solutions

Concept Note

EN / FR / ES / NE


Mobilizing local and indigenous knowledge
for climate change observations and solutions: 
A perspective from the Caribbean region

A regional expert conference organized by UNESCO
Postponed until early December 2017, Georgetown, Guyana


Climate change poses risks to all societies across the globe – however these risks are disproportionally distributed. Those who have done the least to accelerate climate change are those who are particularly threatened by its impacts. These include rural communities, indigenous peoples, and coastal and small island populations. At the same time, indigenous peoples and local communities have not been passive but have been coping and responding to the changes that are happening around them.

Observations of community women and men, alongside their knowledge of managing the environment, can provide important inputs to understanding local level impacts of climate change and how to respond. This knowledge may also be gender specific, reflecting women and men’s different but complementary roles, for instance in natural resource use and management. While the environmental transformations caused by climate change are expected to be unprecedented, indigenous and local knowledge and coping strategies may nonetheless provide a crucial foundation for community-based observations of change and adaptation measures (UNESCO-UNU, 2012).

The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recognizes indigenous, local, and traditional knowledge systems and practices as a major resource for adapting to climate change (IPCC, 2014). For coastal regions and small islands, however, the contributions of local and indigenous knowledge are largely based on research and literature from the Pacific, with a research gap in other small island regions, including the Caribbean. This said there are important Caribbean experiences and research relevant for climate change assessment and adaptation. These include local and indigenous knowledge on the following themes:


Changing weather patterns, increased frequency and intensity of extreme events, shifts in the distribution and behavior of animals and plants, and the impacts of rising sea levels are just some of the ways that the early impacts of climate change are being felt. What changes in their environment are being observed by indigenous peoples and local communities? Projects/initiatives that seek to record and understand indigenous peoples and local communities’ weather and climate forecasting, seasonal calendars and observations of seasonal shifts and change are also of interest. Presentations on this theme can also consider how communities observe and respond to the impacts of extreme events and disasters, such as hurricanes. Experiences from disaster management in communities hold crucial lessons for adaptation planning.


The livelihoods of many indigenous peoples and local communities are heavily dependent on renewable resources. Global change, including climate change, puts great pressure on these traditionally sustainable livelihoods. Yet over the centuries, communities have been adapting their livelihoods to changing conditions. These include strategies such as diversification, modern technologies such as GPS, drawing information from science, and perhaps even resurrecting age-old sustainable practices. Many factors can contribute to continued resilience at the community level. Sustainable livelihoods. Reinforcing the links between different communities through cultural exchanges. Ensuring that indigenous languages are not lost so that knowledge continues to be transmitted from generation to generation. The inclusion of marginalized voices within an indigenous community, including those of the women. Presentations under this theme provide the link between understanding how and why cultural diversity matters in the protection of the environment and climate.


Additional mitigation measures are needed to avoid the high risk of severe, widespread and irreversible impacts of climate change. Many mitigation proposals, such as REDD+ have implications for local communities’ and indigenous peoples’ territories and resources. Many groups have proposed their own alternative carbon emission offset initiatives based on indigenous forms of natural resource management while also expressing concern over the expansion of non-renewable energy industries. Presentations under this theme will showcase concrete case-studies on local or national initiatives where mitigation measures are reinforced by indigenous knowledge. This may include indigenous initiatives that contribute to mitigation activities and promote sustainable lifestyles.

Decision-making processes for climate action are most effective if they are accountable and responsive to the populations that are affected. Local and indigenous knowledge provide valuable inputs into adaptation planning, including at the national level. Presentations under this theme will highlight formal planning initiatives, at the sub-national and national level, that seek to work with indigenous and local knowledge. Presentations may also include national initiatives that seek to understand and reinforce indigenous knowledge within communities. Contributing to the mobilization of local and indigenous knowledge in the Caribbean, UNESCO will organize a regional conference on local and indigenous knowledge and climate change. 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. Also how climate change policy, programmes and tools can create a space for indigenous and local knowledge in order to reinforce efforts to strengthen local resilience. The conference process and outcomes will also be relevant for the on-going discussions at the UNFCCC toward the operationalization of a Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform, demonstrating a way for indigenous knowledge and experiences to be shared and exchanged.



The objectives of the conference are to:
  • Provide a regional overview of the state-of-the-art of local and indigenous knowledge of the environment in the Caribbean, including tools and methodologies for working with local and indigenous knowledge
  • Understand the key issues, experiences and good practices for promoting local and indigenous knowledge in climate change assessment and action

Date and venue

The conference has been postponed until early December 2017. New dates will be announced soon.


Expected outcomes

  • Compilation of case studies from the greater Caribbean region, including states and dependent territories 
  • Participants will consider and deliberate on the issues and key characteristics of local and indigenous knowledge in the Caribbean
  • Policy-relevant recommendations to strengthen local and indigenous knowledge alongside science, in policy and decision-making


  • Local and indigenous knowledge holders and experts e.g. women and men who farm, fish, harvest reefs; traditional weather forecasters; community elders etc
  • Experts on local and indigenous knowledge in the Caribbean
  • Meteorologists, climate scientists and other scientists from related fields
  • Government experts from national ministries, adaptation planners at sub-national and national levels, and/or meteorology departments, amongst others, who are involved in climate change policies or practices affecting or involving local communities and indigenous peoples
A Scientific Selection Committee will oversee the selection of participants. An online ‘call for submissions’ will be disseminated in English, French, Spanish and Dutch.

Structure of the meeting

The workshop will be presided over by co-chairs and consist of keynotes and panel discussions. Panel moderators will be invited with due consideration for gender balance and the participation of indigenous peoples and local communities.  
Day 1

Session 1: Opening 
Session 2: Keynotes
Session 3: Panel sessions
Day 2
Session 3: Panel sessions (cont.)
Day 3
Session 3: Panel sessions (cont.)
Session 4: Closing


Conference partnerships through financial and in-kind support are welcome. For more information, please contact Ms Jen Rubis j.rubis [at] unesco [dot] org. 

Call for submissions

If you are interested in participating as a panel speaker in the event, please submit a case study, research, narrative or testimony that relate to one of the four themes described above. Case studies should focus on the greater Caribbean region, including island states and dependent territories, and coastal regions bordering the Caribbean. Presenters may be asked to contribute to a publication. Travel funds are available for some selected speakers. 
The form can be submitted in: