Indigenous Knowledge to Saving Climate and Land

Mark Trahant*

Reprinted with author's permission from Indian Country Today, August 12, 2019, https://newsmaven.io/indiancountrytoday/news/un-says-rethink-land-use-before-it-s-too-late-RxZFknDTs0mk1BzAJiLaOA/.

UN says rethink land use 'before it's too late'.

Agriculture, food production, and deforestation are major drivers of climate change.

There are two things you need to know from last week’s report on land use and climate change from the United Nations.

First: Governments around the world need to move quicker in order to limit the damage.

And second: Indigenous knowledge is essential.

“Climate change has already affected food security due to warming, changing precipitation patterns, and greater frequency of some extreme events,” according to the Special Report on Climate Change and Landreleased by the United Nations last week in Geneva.

Or as the UN scientists said in a presentation: "Climate change is making a challenging situation worse and undermining food security."

“Governments challenged the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to take the first ever comprehensive look at the whole land-climate system,” said the body’s chair, Hoesung Lee. He said in a news release that it’s the first time that a majority of the report’s authors are from developing countries.

Think of that. This international report writes about the destruction of habitat including the point of view of the people who will be impacted first. The methodology of the report explicitly included interviews with Indigenous populations as a key source.

The UN report found that agriculture, food production, and deforestation are major drivers of climate change.

Climate change has already affected food security due to warming, changing precipitation patterns, and greater frequency of some extreme events, the report said. “Based on Indigenous and local knowledge, climate change is affecting food security in drylands, particularly those in Africa, and high mountain regions of Asia and South America.”

The report said better land management is essential and could contribute to tackling climate change, but that alone is not a solution. The report says: “Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors is essential if global warming is to be kept to well below 2 degrees Celsius, if not 1.5 degrees.”

Indigenous communities will be in the path of these dramatic climate forces. The report cites significant permafrost degradation and food instability, even at the lower levels of 1.5 degrees warming.

“New knowledge shows an increase in risks from dryland water scarcity, fire damage, permafrost degradation and food system instability, even for global warming of around 1.5°C,” said Valérie Masson-Delmotte, co-chair of panel’s working group. “Very high risks related to permafrost degradation and food system instability are identified at 2°C of global warming.”

She said humans affect more than 70 per cent of ice-free land and a quarter of that is already degraded.

"Today 500 million people live in areas that experience desertification,” she said at the news conference told journalists. “People living in already degraded or desertified areas are increasingly negatively affected by climate change.”

Sooner rather than later people will need to rethink the use of land (and diets) in order to slow the growth of global warming.

The report also links the relationship between poverty and land use.

“Reducing inequalities, improving incomes, and ensuring equitable access to food so that some regions (where land cannot provide adequate food) are not disadvantaged, are other ways to adapt to the negative effects of climate change,” the report said. “An overall focus on sustainability coupled with early action offers the best chances to tackle climate change. This would entail low population growth and reduced inequalities, improved nutrition and lower food waste. This could enable a more resilient food system and make more land available for bioenergy, while still protecting forests and natural ecosystems. However, without early action in these areas, more land would be required for bioenergy, leading to challenging decisions about future land-use and food security.”

The Quinault Nation is among the tribes in coastal Washington dealing with climate change. Photo by Sam Beebe

One of the authors, Eduardo Calvo, co-chair of the task force on national greenhouse gas inventories, said “policies that support sustainable land management, ensure the supply of food for vulnerable populations, and keep carbon in the ground while reducing greenhouse gas emissions are important.”

One key finding is that countries should consider all options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including by growing plant-based fuels. “Limiting global warming to one point five or even to decrease will involve removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and learned has a critical role to play in carbon dioxide removal,” Calvo said.

The take-away: “Acting early is more cost-effective as it avoids losses.” The UN panel said that meant scaling up efforts by governments to better manage land and water for sustainability.

The Special Report on Climate Change and Land was prepared by 107 experts from 52 countries.

*Mark Trahant is the editor of Indian Country Today . He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes . Follow him on Twitter @TrahantReports .

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