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The ingenuity of indigenous peoples is too often overlooked by policymakers making decisions related to climate change — even though they are among the most vulnerable to its impacts, according to a new report.

The report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), released last month (March), points out that indigenous people usually occupy marginal and remote areas, such as small islands, coastal plains, mountain areas and drylands, where they are exposed to adverse environmental effects.

Although these populations develop coping strategies, the severity of future climate change may exceed this adaptive capacity, say the report's authors.

Furthermore, they are often socially vulnerable –– lacking rights, infrastructure and support, and with fragile livelihoods based only on natural resources.

The areas liable to the greatest changes in climate, and indeed already affected, include the Amazon region, the Caribbean, southern Africa and southern Latin America — all containing large numbers of indigenous people.

Gonzalo Oviedo, co-author of the report and IUCN senior advisor on social policy, told SciDev.Net, "Indigenous peoples' vast experience in adapting to climate variability will not be sufficient — they also need better access to other information and tools."

The report emphasises the need to involve indigenous communities more in research and debate on climate change. "In the Arctic, scientists and indigenous people work together. It opens doors to knowledge not accessible through Western scientific methods," says co-author Sarah Gotheil, programme officer of IUCN's Global Marine Programme.

Indigenous peoples' perspective and knowledge should be considered when making policies on adapting to climate change, the report recommends.

Their adaptation practices include rainwater harvesting, crop and livelihood diversification, and hunting and gathering timed with variations in animal migration and fruiting periods.

The challenge, says the report, is to find how best to combine traditional and scientific knowledge for incorporation into decision making.

The report advises that supporting indigenous peoples in their adaptation methods will help preserve the world's culturally and biologically most diverse areas.

"Their wise practices are also important for the younger generations," adds co-author Agni Boedhihartono, a landscape and community engagement officer for IUCN.

Link to full IUCN report [1.49MB]