The synergy between Nature-based Solutions and traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples can be an important tool for managing climate change
Nature-based solutions (NbS) are defined as actions that protect, sustainably manage and restore natural or modified ecosystems in methods that tackle societal challenges, maintain human well-being and enhance biodiversity (IUCN, 2016).
NbS is gaining traction for offering numerous practices that decrease greenhouse gas emissions or increase carbon storage, causing the net removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and halt climate change.
It is estimated that by 2030, NbS could provide 30-40% of the CO2 reductions necessary to facilitate the process of keeping a global average temperature of 2° (Seddon et al, 2019).
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) also acknowledged the synergy between biodiversity conservation and the reduction of carbon emissions to address climate change mitigation (IPCC Climate Change and Land Report, 2019).
Most crucially, the IPCC recognized that indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) can play a fundamental role in addressing climate change. Consequently, a group of indigenous peoples from 42 countries affirmed in response, “Finally, the world’s top scientists recognize what we have always known…that strengthening our rights is a critical solution to the climate crisis” (IPCC, 2019).
Indigenous peoples and local communities contribute to climate change mitigation by the preservation of their forestlands that act as a carbon sink, absorbing and storing tons of atmospheric carbon annually.
A study by Frechette et al (2018) estimates that at least 17% or 293,061 million metric tons (Mt) of the total carbon stored in the global forest lands are managed by the indigenous peoples and local communities.
The study also includes that the indigenous governance can help to safeguard nearly one-fifth of the total carbon sequestered by tropical and subtropical forests (218 Gigatons) since they encompass 40% of the protected areas. Indigenous peoples in particular, manage a significant part of the Earth’s most biodiverse regions, conserve lands, seas and maintain sustainable use of their natural resources.
They nurture strong economic, cultural and spiritual relationships with their natural environments. However, the geographical regions and natural ecosystems, where the indigenous peoples reside, are prone to the effects of climate change; making them vulnerable to the impacts of natural disasters. Indigenous peoples also face discrimination and exclusion from social, political and economic power, which hinders their capacity building and resilience.
To adapt to the changing climate and environment, indigenous peoples have been developing practices based on their traditional knowledge. For example, in the Sahel region of Africa, indigenous communities utilize water harvesting techniques for climate adapting to climate change. This technique is known as ’zai pits’ or ’tassa’ which helps restore degraded drylands through climate-smart agriculture.
The Kalasha indigenous community in Pakistan, apply their traditional knowledge known as ‘Suri Jagek’ (translates to observing the sun) and regularly plan harvests and protect livestock.
This early warning system reinforces the community’s ability to adapt and sustain their livelihoods, in the midst of uncertain times. Similarly, the indigenous communities in the Middle East and Northern African regions make shelters from mud and other local materials during the summer.
These communities are exploiting their traditional knowledge to protect themselves from extreme heat and adapting to climate change (Harper et al., 2020). Therefore, Indigenous communities hold a unique position in disaster risk reduction, climate change mitigation and adaptation practices.
Indigenous traditional knowledge also maintains balance, respect and harmony amongst human beings and nature, and enhances resilience in the face of climate change. The mechanism of traditional knowledge aims to have a minimal impact on the environment and promote self-sustaining ecosystems and biodiversity (Hosen et al, 2020).
For generations now, traditional knowledge has been passed on by the elders and helped the indigenous people to promote Nature-based Solutions with great potential for adaptation strategies at the local, national and global levels.
Furthermore, traditional ecological knowledge of indigenous peoples and local communities have been maintained through oral history and practices, for years (Shanley and Galváo, 1999).
For example, conserving ecosystem resilience through shifting cultivation systems to maintain forest coverage, and intercropping two or more crops in closeness to increase plant diversity are well-known applications of traditional ecological knowledge.
Additionally, indigenous communities such as Khasia, and Manipuri in the northeastern region of Bangladesh have been involved with various types of sustainable agroforestry systems.
Mixed culture of agroforestry and agriculture farming by the indigenous peoples in Bangladesh are perceived as the sustainable strengthening of cultivation, where yields get increased without adverse environmental impact and cultivation of more lands (Nath et al, 2016).
These diversified farming techniques and sustainable lifestyles can effectively enhance societal resilience and the harmony between human and nature. Nature-based Solution is inevitably present where traditional and sustainable uses of natural resources are practised (IUCN, 2020).
The intersectional approach by Nature-based Solutions accounts for different types of knowledge systems and worldviews rooted in traditional ecological or indigenous knowledge.
Unfortunately, due to lack of recognition, indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge is on the verge of extinction. Enhancing efforts to minimize this gap and securing tenured community land rights can result in restoration and preservation of natural ecosystems, advance food security, increase carbon storage and reduce emission.
Recognizing indigenous peoples contribution to address climate change and conservation in relevant sectoral, national and global policies can also lead to conflict resolutions, boost ecosystem and socio-economic resilience (UNEP, 2019).
Hence, securing indigenous peoples’ rights to conserve their lands and increasing their capacities and making them financially self-sustainable can establish and meet the criteria of Nature-based Solutions.
For instance, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has initiated People Protecting Landscapes and Seascapes (PPLS) initiative in 2020, with an inclusive conservation approach, which seeks to achieve systems change and acknowledge IPLCs’ vital role as nature’s custodians.
WWF and International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) is working collaboratively to conduct research on advocating for the recognition of the indigenous peoples’ rights and their role in implementing Nature-based Solutions for tackling climate change.
Furthermore, evidence and action-based research (drawing on successful domestic and international examples) to scientifically evaluate the efficacy and sustainability of indigenous practices can explicitly identify for indigenous people’s leadership in Nature-based Solutions.
A harmonious synergy between Nature-based Solutions and traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples can kick-start us through a new pathway toward saving this world from the devastating impacts of climate change.
Afsara Binte Mirza is working in the International Centre for Climate Change and Development as a Junior Research Officer, her research interest lies in climate justice and gender equality. She can be reached at afsara.mirz[email protected]
Anika Binte Razzaque is working in the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) as an intern, her research interest lies in Global Climate Change and Adaptation and the role of NDC in it. She can be reached at [email protected]
Savio Rousseau Rozario is currently working at the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) as a Junior Research Officer. He holds a great interest in disaster risk reduction and management practices in terms of climate change impact. He can be reached at [email protected]