How Climate Change Affects Indigenous People


The fight against climate change is extremely complex, as the problem itself is influenced by myriad technical, economic, and political factors. Scientists predict that we only have 12 years left to prevent the most dangerous consequences of global warming from manifesting, which would otherwise claim millions of lives. A massive global effort, one that is inclusive of all stakeholders, will be necessary to save the world. Unfortunately, we often overlook a particular group: the indigenous people.

Around 350 million indigenous people are living around the globe, and they are typically live in relative isolation from other communities. It is partly because of their location; most of them live in areas that have not been fully explored by other people.

Another reason would be their culture, as they have a unique way of life that is starkly different from non-indigenous people. Perhaps most poignantly, their isolation is due to the cruel treatment given to them by traditional societies. Their rights have been trampled upon as they were driven away from their lands by colonizers, and their culture has been unfairly judged as inferior, with lethal consequences.

Indigenous People Are Vulnerable To Climate Change

Due to their isolation, they may live in high-risk areas that will be severely affected by climate change. For example, indigenous people living close to the shoreline may be displaced by rising sea levels and more intense storms. Those living on mountain slopes may become vulnerable to landslides due to harsh weather conditions. Lands may become uninhabitable due to major changes in local weather patterns.


In addition, the way of life of many indigenous people will also be affected by climate change. For example, many indigenous people rely on agriculture for sustenance, and unprecedented changes in rainfall patterns may cause droughts or floods that can make large swaths of land unproductive.

As to lands that can sustain these people become smaller and rarer, indigenous people may be forced to grab land from other indigenous areas, increasing conflict and straining relationships. Displaced indigenous people may also be forced to integrate with conventional society against their wishes, which may put their unique culture at risk of being tainted or erased.

Considering that the carbon footprint of indigenous people is almost negligible compared to other societies, it is unfair that they are exposed the most to the effects of climate change. This disproportional exposure to risk is why other societies must put more effort into protecting them. Only then can we genuinely say that we are inclusive.

Indigenous People Can Be Hurt By Efforts to Stop Climate Change

Efforts to combat climate change can include the utilization of renewable energy sources, such as solar or hydropower. To proceed, it might be necessary to use significant areas of land. The environment may also be changed significantly during the process. Without proper consultation with all stakeholders, including indigenous people, some groups will be harmed in the process of establishing a renewable energy plant.


For example, hydropower dams require the blocking of rivers, which can change the flow characteristics of the river downstream of the dam. This can make it harder for people to obtain fish from the river, and irrigation systems may also be ruined. Upstream of the dam, accumulated water may submerge the surrounding areas, displacing indigenous people. Governments may even resort to land-grabbing to violate the rights of these people to their land under the guise of installing renewable energy systems.

We Need More Inclusivity

To solve all of these problems, society at large should include indigenous people in all discussions regarding climate change. Proper representation in government and other key positions of influence is a start. To make inclusion more lasting, people should share awareness about these issues until we genuinely accept, through our actions, that indigenous people deserve attention and consideration. Only then can we fight global warming, our common enemy.  


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