How can science and traditional knowledge complement each other?

“Indigenous people are on the frontlines of climate change and are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change”, said Jennifer Rubis, Climate Frontlines coordinator at UNESCO.

This session on Day 3 of the Forum explored the theme of how indigenous people can participate more fully in climate change processes and bring their knowledge into science-policy platforms such as the IPCC and IPBES.

First, how do we define traditional knowledge? One key question would be is it knowledge that is important from one generation to another, or is it knowledge that is mobilized for producing new knowledge, dynamic knowledge, knowledge that is not static.

Panellists talked about their efforts to preserve culture and knowledge through inter-cultural universities and special courses. In recent years, there has been a big shift from their former status of being passive, or helpless victims of global environmental change to actors and negotiators in international treaties and conventions.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its Fourth Assessment Report recognized traditional knowledge as ‘an invaluable basis for developing adaptation and natural resource management strategies in response to environmental and other forms of change’. Despite this recognition, indigenous knowledge has remained largely outside the scope of IPCC assessments. In order to strengthen consideration of indigenous knowledge in IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report to be released in 2014, the publication calls on Authors of the 5AR and climate policymakers to heed he rapidly growing scientific literature on the contributions of indigenous and traditional knowledge to understanding climate change vulnerability, resilience and adaptation.

“Indigenous people have not been passive. We are negotiating, resisting, adapting, and engaging with policymakers, nationally and internationally”, Rubis said.

Another area where indigenous people are involved is the Convention on Biodiversity. The CBD has set up mechanisms such an indigenous co-chair in the meeting, a voluntary fund to enable indigenous people to attend the meetings.

With the establishment of IPBES, it was acknowledged that this should not just be a science-policy platform but a knowledge platform including different knowledge systems and this was accepted. This is a big advance in the way scientists, policymakers and indigenous people can work together, opening the door for co-production.

Other partnerships which have emerged in the wake of International Polar Year include partnerships between indigenous people of the Artic region to collaborate with NASA and universities.

Download the PDF of the book “Weathering Uncertainty: Traditional Knowledge for Climate Change Assessment and Adaptation”


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