Without traditional knowledge, there is no climate change solution

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim speaking at the United Nations Foundation in April 2016. (© Stuart Ramson, UN Foundation)

The world is waking up to the reality of climate change.

But for me — and for the millions of indigenous peoples around the world — climate change isn’t a revelation. It’s life.

For all indigenous peoples, whether we come from the mountain or the forest, the desert or the ice, our lives and livelihoods are linked to the environment. We are dependent on the land, and because of climate change, that land — and our futures — are in danger.

The latest report on global warming, released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, paints a bleak picture of what will happen if we let Earth’s temperature rise past 1.5 degrees Celsius. The problem: The current targets adopted by countries party to the Paris Agreement aim to limit warming to 2 degrees — and that half a degree could have catastrophic impacts.

Faced with this future, I say it’s time we turn to the past.

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim. (© Conservation International)

Indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge is the key to helping not only the world’s indigenous peoples, but all of humanity, adapt and mitigate to climate change. By combining this knowledge with science and technology, by grounding innovation in nature, we have the greatest chance to meet these ambitious new carbon targets.

Climate science relies on modern tools and sophisticated forecasting and modeling systems. In my community, we collect information from nature and use this data to inform our decisions. We observe trees, fruits, bird migrations, wind direction and the positions of the stars to predict the weather and to help us adapt to changes. We also use participatory 3D modeling to map our land and better manage our natural resources. This is where traditional knowledge and science meet.

Whether I am meeting with a community leader or a head of state, I am continuously struck by the same idea: Until we recognize the value of this knowledge, of the contributions of indigenous peoples to the fight against climate change and ecological destruction, we don’t have a hope. Fundamentally, this is a question of justice — of climate justice. Having one indigenous voice on a panel, or in a working group, or at the negotiating table is not enough; instead, we must be decision-makers. Too often, our rights and our resources are forgotten. True climate justice must start with finding the balance between conserving these resources and valuing our rights to them.

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My role is to link my community’s experiences, traditional knowledge and nature-based solutions to climate change with international bodies such as the United Nations. I have a duty to inform the world and to report back to my community in order to help them become more resilient and to ensure future generations will be around to keep our identity and our knowledge alive. My role with Conservation International as an indigenous fellow will help me, my community and all indigenous peoples gain access to a new platform and audience to share our experiences and help the world benefit from our knowledge, innovation and ways of conservation.

In the coming months, I will be attending many international conventions to advocate for my indigenous sisters and brothers, including the Convention of Biological Diversity and the United Nations Climate Change Conference. I will inform decision-makers of the reality that our lives are constantly changing because of climate change, and reinforce the idea that we must be involved in the decision-making process.

Without indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge, and without indigenous peoples’ involvement in decision-making, we can’t help implement climate solutions. And right now, the planet needs all the help it can get.

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim is Conservation International’s Senior Indigenous Fellow and a National Geographic Emerging Explorer. She is also a former co-chair of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change. She is a member of the Mbororo pastoralist community of Chad.

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