Calls for “Inclusive Governance” in Climate Change Policy

Climate change mitigation and adaptation policies need to stop merely “paying lip service” to the knowledge and needs of rural communities, indigenous lands, and high mountain communities, according to two anthropologists who make their case in a recent issue of Science.

The perspective, “Environmental governance for all,” written by Eduardo S. Brondizio and Francois-Michel Le Tourneau of Indiana University and Sorbonne Nouvelle University in June, argues that effective governance can only occur with the consultation and incorporation of local and indigenous knowledge into policy decisions.

Andes Mountains
High mountain ecosystems, such as the Andes in Peru, are extremely vulnerable to climate change Source: David Stanley

Research suggests that indigenous peoples, who own, occupy or manage up to 65 percent of the Earth’s land surface, are largely excluded from environmental policymaking and forums such as the 2015 Paris climate change conference (COP 21) that led to the negotiated Paris Agreement. The convention aims to limit rising global average temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

COP 21 asked countries to submit intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) to publicly outline what climate actions they intend to take under the Paris Agreement. However, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change reported in a 2015 review that none of these notes, or INDCs, submitted by countries as of October 1, 2015 made any mention of indigenous peoples, signaling a key disconnect of indigenous inclusion in national environmental policies.  

The paper in Science argues that the inclusion of indigenous people is crucial to effectively tackle challenges caused by climate change and human-caused environmental degradation. Noting that as local and indigenous communities are “crucial for climate change adaptation and mitigation, from carbon sequestration to provisioning of water, food, and energy to cities,” the authors write that attempts to mitigate and adapt to climate change will be “compromised” without their inclusion and participation.

Co-author Le Torneau told GlacierHub via email, “Glacier and high mountain communities are on the frontline of climate change.”  

Glacial retreat and rapidly changing ecosystems especially threaten these communities’ livelihoods, water supply, and food security, as indigenous peoples tend to rely on land and natural resources for survival. A recent study from the United Nations Environmental Programme and affiliated center GRID-Arendal reported that glacial melt “will most likely increase human vulnerability in many areas.”

Namche Bazaar
Namche Bazaar, a village in northeastern Nepal, with the peak of Kongde Ri in the background. Source: Steve Hicks

As a result, the perspective’s argument especially holds weight for climate change mitigation and adaptation policy affecting high mountain communities near glaciers, such as mountain villages in Nepal.

While the paper acknowledges that many international conventions like the COP21 climate meeting in Paris have recognized the importance of local and indigenous inclusion in climate change policy in their texts, Le Torneau said he believes that the documents do not actually translate into equal representation when it comes to the establishment or implementation of policy. 

“There is today a certain kind of inclusion in so far as their existence is considered and a number of compensations are called for. But there is no equality,” he tells GlacierHub via email. “City people can impose new regulations on remote small communities but the reverse is not true as a consequence of the democratic game.”

The authors said they hope that these groups will gain more access to future environmental policy decisions and initiatives at all governmental levels. However, they note that delegated responsibilities must pay particular attention to disparities in funding between communities.

The paper notes that while “sparsely populated areas are increasingly targeted to meet national and global conservation and climate mitigation goals…local and indigenous populations, many of which are poor, are expected to take on growing responsibilities as environmental stewards.”

Le Torneau writes that the paper was inspired by fieldwork observations about Amazonian forest communities’ lack of input in key policy decisions regarding the Amazon’s conservation. He explains that local forest communities were often expected to act as “environmental stewards,” but that these expectations for their direction and goals of their stewardship were “much more imposed by external centers of power,” extending from international non-profits to governments.

Le Torneau said he believes that such power dynamics “could create strong local resentment and opposition.”

He notes that some of those in charge of governing Amazon forest conservation ironically “have only a very limited knowledge of the natural environment.”

“Some international donors in the Amazon have prohibited the purchase of chainsaws in environmental programs. But if you have no chainsaw in your boat, you cannot control a protected area, because you will be blocked by the first fallen tree on your path,” he said.

World Landscapes Forum
A speaker at the first Global Landscapes Forum in 2013 in Warsaw, Poland. Source: N. Palmer (IWMI)

The paper notes that a few environmental initiatives exist that have successfully practiced inclusive governance. It praises the Center for International Forestry Research’s Global Landscape Forum for its wide range of stakeholder engagement to “share ideas, propose solutions, and make commitments for the inclusive management of landscapes.”

The authors write they hope that efforts such as the Global Landscape Forum will craft effective and inclusive policies that will work to conserve ecosystems in diverse regions around the world.

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