Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change: An Exploration of Human and Environmental Rights among the World's First Nations Communities


Research question: How is global warming affecting indigenous peoples’ human rights internationally?

This Capstone paper explores how the effects of climate change on indigenous peoples (IP) constitute a breach of human rights, and what local, national and international bodies and individuals are responding to the crisis, and how.

Methods: Through a literature review I accumulated popular and scientific perspectives on the intersection of climate change and indigenous peoples’ human rights. I performed five interviews with indigenous individuals at the United Nations Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues, recording their responses in note form. I collected the data presented by seven indigenous individuals at side sessions of the UNPFII in lecture and Q&A format, also recorded in note form.

Findings: It has been shown by scientists, anthropologists, and among indigenous communities themselves that global warming is changing the natural environment upon which indigenous groups are more directly reliant than any other. Often lacking the infrastructure used by the greater globalized community, indigenous communities experience the effects of global warming first-hand. Equally troubling in terms of the detrimental effects of climate change on traditional indigenous habitats is the threat posed to the spiritual or ethos-related aspects of indigenous ties to the natural world. From melting Arctic ice to disappearing flora and fauna, rising sea levels and thinning atmosphere, Native Peoples are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine.

IP often lack power at national and international levels. These groups are often unrecognized by the government of their territories as sovereign peoples. Their voices are not usually heard by the mainstream. IP communities and ways of life are under severe threat around the globe. Most IP populations struggle to subsist in their traditional lands due to the pressures of development and racism.

Implications: IP must gain their political, social and cultural human rights under international law, and be actively protected from the devastating effects of global climate change for which IP are not themselves responsible.


Environmental Sciences | Indigenous Studies

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