How do climate-related disasters and slow onset climate changes affect minorities and indigenous peoples? Why are these groups especially sensitive to the effects of climate change? In examining such questions, this report highlights a neglected area of research, and the important role of these groups as stewards of natural environments that are major carbon sinks and biodiversity hotspots. It argues for the explicit inclusion of minority and indigenous groups in plans for combating and adapting to climate change.
‘Minorities’ are defined as those groups that are numerically smaller within a population, and who share a common religious, ethnic, or linguistic identity. ‘Indigenous peoples’ refers to groups who are seen as the ‘first people’ to inhabit a territory, and who have a special connection with the natural environment.
The impacts of climate change on minorities and indigenous people are rarely mentioned. Failure to recognise and respond to the problems of these groups arising from climate-related disasters and slow onset climate impacts exacerbates their suffering. The study finds that:
- There is hardly any English-language research on the present and predicted effects of climate change on minorities and indigenous groups
- Indigenous peoples and some minorities often have a close relationship with their natural environments, which makes them especially sensitive to the effects of global warming
- Minorities tend to live in places that are worst hit by the impact of climate change; their poverty exacerbates their vulnerability
- Biofuels are being presented as part of the solution to global warming, but the expansion of crop cultivation for biofuels has a devastating effect on forest-dwelling indigenous people
- Discrimination against indigenous people and minorities makes it harder for them to cope with the impacts of climate change
- Neither group receives adequate help from or exerts appreciable influence over governments.
Research is needed into the ways that minorities and indigenous people are affected by climate change. Their situation must be documented and recognised by governments, international organisations, academics, and development and environmental NGOs. Minorities and indigenous people’s own organisations can contribute to this shift in awareness. They will add weight to their demands if they emphasise their role as stewards of precious natural environments that are major carbon sinks and biodiversity hotspots. Other opportunities for these groups to make themselves heard include the following:
- National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs) provide an opportunity for ensuring that the voices and priorities of indigenous people and minorities are incorporated into the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change process on adaptation.
- Some indigenous groups have used International human rights law to try and hold governments accountable for climate change related impacts on their communities.
- The 2006 Brookings-Bern Guidelines on Protecting Persons Affected by Natural Disasters emphasise the need to protect the rights of minorities and indigenous people in the aftermath of disasters. It is vital that these guidelines are implemented by relief agencies in practice.