Local knowledge and a planet under pressure

Indigenous peoples and many local communities are on the frontlines of climate change but they are not passive victims. They are holders of sophisticated and diverse knowledge sets that need to be actively considered by scientists and policy-makers in order for local adaptation to succeed. Taking into consideration local and indigenous knowledge complements and strengthens the use scientific modeling and provides for appropriate, effective environmental policy and decision-making. This was the key message at Indigenous knowledge and sustainable futures, a panel held during the March 2012 international conference Planet Under Pressure. Bringing together a small but diverse set of case studies from pastoralists in Chad, a drought-stricken Navajo Nation, remote islands of Vanuatu and the high mountains of Nepal, the panel co-convened by UNESCO and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity highlighted how GIS technologies could be used to reinforce traditional knowledge and how local perspectives complements and contributes to scientific assessment of impacts of drought and disaster.

In introducing the panel discussion, session chair Hans Thulstrup reiterated the significance of such collaboration, stressing that local and indigenous knowledge offers detailed insights into local environmental change and complements broader-scale scientific research with local precision and nuance. He noted that without understanding and including local and indigenous community perspectives, important knowledge is excluded from decision-making processes to the detriment of both the communities themselves and to global thinking and research on environmental change.

To a lively and interactive audience, panelists Lila Nath Sharma, Margaret Redsteer, Carlos Mondragón and Jennifer Rubis (who presented Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim's work on Mbororo pastoralists) discussed and debated key issues surrounding indigenous knowledge including its ability to absorb the new environmental uncertainties, how to ensure its continuity and how it could be strengthened by outside knowledge and technologies.

Similar calls for the inclusion of local and indigenous perspectives could be found throughout the conference. At least ten case-studies presented at various panels throughout the four day conference emphasized the need to ensure that policy recommendations are rooted in participatory and locally-oriented priorities. The posters featuring research on local knowledge and climate change included one on Himalayan Climate Change, Alpine Vegetation and Tibetan Traditional Knowledge by Jan Salick. The plenary sessions were no less supportive. Illuminaries including Nobel prize winning economist Elinor Ostrom emphasized that sustainable development was possible when decision-making over common natural goods was centred at the local level. Her emphasis on a 'polycentric' approach to environmental governance underlines the need for empowering local communities to manage their natural resources including water, forests and pastures. Likewise, Indian economist Bina Agawaral pointed to the role that women smallholder famers would need to play in achieving food security. The final conference declaration, released by co-chairs Lidia Brito of UNESCO and Mark Stafford Smith of CSIRO, spoke of the need to ensure that innovation 'be informed by diverse local needs and conditions.' It added that the linking of scientific research to policy-relevant interdisciplinary efforts needed to not only 'integrate across existing research programmes and disciplines' and local knowledge systems.

Chair Hans Thulstrup discusses the importance of indigenous knowledge to climate change adaptation

Lila Nath Sharma presents on Nepal pastoralist knowledge

Carlos Mondragon presents climate observations from Vanuatu island communities

Margaret Hiza Redsteer replies to questions on the Navajo Land-Use project


For more information on the panel Indigenous Knowledge and Sustainable Futures, please click here.

For more information on the presenters and their presentations please click here.

For more information on Planet Under Pressure, please go to: http://www.planetunderpressure2012.net. For the conference notification on this session, please go to http://www.planetunderpressure2012.net/pup_session.asp?19173.