World, Environment

Indigenous peoples' ways of life threatened by climate change

Despite being responsible for very little carbon emissions, Indigenous among hardest-hit by climate change, caused mostly by developed nations

Yeter Ada Seko and Emre Basaran  | 14.07.2023 - Update : 14.07.2023
Indigenous peoples' ways of life threatened by climate change FILE PHOTO


Indigenous peoples have suffered from floods, tornadoes, and droughts caused by the climate crisis, getting worse due to the activities of developed nations.

Despite being responsible for very little carbon emissions, Indigenous groups are among those most affected by natural disasters made more frequent by climate change, according to information that Anadolu compiled from reports by the UN, UN Development Program (UNDP), and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Many factors, including industrial activities, transportation, urbanization, consumption, and increasing plastic use in developed nations are exacerbating the climate crisis, while disasters that occur as a result of global warming and the increase in temperature do not affect all people equally.

Numbering about 370 million people — or 5% of the worldwide population — according to UNDP data, Indigenous people are among the worst-hit due to rising temperatures, and their effects, which include epidemics, drought, desertification, forest fires, deforestation, heavy rains that can damage agriculture, river floods, and the melting of glaciers.

Studies have found that as a result, local Indigenous peoples have lost their livelihoods, while being exposed to food insecurity and invasive new insect species due to temperature changes.

Further, they have struggled to exist on small islands as a result of coastal erosion due to increasing water levels, or forced to migrate due to the impacts of the global warming.

From Arctic to Australia, Indigenous peoples grapple with climate crisis

UN reports highlight the challenges faced by Indigenous peoples worldwide due to the climate crisis, as they heavily rely on nature for their livelihoods.

For instance, in the Equatorial Amazon, climate change-induced excessive rainfall has led to devastating floods in agricultural lands, impacting the main source of income for local communities and causing food security concerns.

In Australia, the Aborigines and other Indigenous communities on the islands of the Torres Strait grapple with the adverse effects of climate change. Rising sea levels pose a threat to their lands, potentially turning them into climate refugees. These communities already face irregular tides, coastal erosion, rising water levels, and flash flooding.

Indigenous peoples in the Central American countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, who were affected by hurricanes Eta and Lota in 2020, endure financial hardships, discrimination, violence, pressure from the mining and energy companies, and the negative impacts of tourism. The climate crisis exacerbates these challenges, leading to worsening living conditions and a growing inclination to migrate to the US.

Studies conducted by WWF shed light on the difficulties faced by local communities in the Arctic region due to climate change. Melting glaciers, retreat of ice, and the intrusion of species like killer whales disrupt hunting dynamics. Mining, gas, and oil extraction activities, as well as the construction of infrastructures such as railways and increased sea traffic, further disturb the ecological balance of the region.

In Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia, where reindeer herding is a vital livelihood, approximately 100,000 active reindeer herders still exist. However, changes in climate pose a threat to their way of life. The increase in winter rains, leading to loss of reindeer's sense of smell, impacts their ability to find lichens, a major food source, buried under harder ice sheets formed from the rain. This raises concerns about the sustainability of reindeer husbandry in the region.

Indigenous peoples play a crucial role as custodians of both biological and cultural diversity, drawing upon their traditional knowledge. Despite comprising only 5% of the global population, they administer nearly 25% of the world's land, which encompasses 80% of the planet's biodiversity-rich regions, as well as approximately 40% of terrestrial protected areas and ecologically pristine landscapes.

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