Climate Action

3 key ways to meaningfully engage Indigenous peoples in climate action

Indigenous peoples are key to the global fight against climate change.

Indigenous peoples are key to the global fight against climate change — but, all too often, other groups fail to engage with them effectively. Image: REUTERS/David Gray

Amanda Young
Executive Director, Pollination
Ginelle Greene-Dewasmes
Community Specialist, Global Shapers Community, World Economic Forum Geneva
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  • Indigenous peoples globally will play a critical role in accelerating climate action solutions.
  • To accelerate climate action progress, reframing Indigenous communities as partners rather than stakeholders will be vital.
  • For success, adopting engagement approaches that adhere to three core principles will be necessary: engaging as partners not stakeholders, increased access to resources and genuine listening.

Indigenous peoples are disproportionately affected by climate change in Australia and around the world. They also hold notable untapped potential that could be explored by their inclusion in climate action solutions.

Indigenous people should be equitable stakeholders in engagement, rather than viewed as potential add-ons, without any real ownership or influence. They must be at the heart of engagement.

This means adopting engagement approaches that adhere to three critical principles:

  • Partners, not stakeholders;
  • Increased access to resources;
  • Genuine listening.
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3 approaches to meaningful Indigenous engagement

1. Partners, not stakeholders

When it comes to Indigenous participation, the first step is to reframe how Indigenous groups are perceived. There is a need to move such underrepresented voices from their existing “stakeholder” status to that of a partner bringing value worthy of an equity shareholding. Indigenous groups bring ecological expertise, workforces in place, integrity and permanence, worthy of equity status in any partnership. The faster this shift occurs within the spaces that facilitate exchange, impart expertise and foster collaboration, the faster climate action progress can be achieved.

This shareholding model obviates pain points like attempting to create “benefit sharing” models based on a transactive basis or a formula. It is time to go transformational.

Valuable lessons can be learned from Canada and Australia, particularly in the area of clean energy projects. Here, Indigenous people on whose lands these transition activities are occurring, are equity shareholders.

The Aboriginal Clean Energy partnership began in Australia in 2023 as a groundbreaking 75% Indigenous-owned large-scale green hydrogen venture between three Aboriginal Traditional Owners and advisory and investments firm Pollination. Additionally, in Canada, the first of several clean energy projects began in 2000 on Pic River traditional territory. Both countries now boast Indigenous-led energy associations, one in Canada and Australia doing exceptional work to build the workforce capabilities.

At the global level, during COP28, the Canadian government called upon parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to build upon the formal spaces for Indigenous peoples to participate actively and to create more formal spaces in the UNFCCC process to meaningfully engage Indigenous peoples.

2. Resourcing is key

Indigenous people need capital to activate their participation, a role that governments can stimulate through policy, fiscal levers, underwriting and investment, opening the paths for other forms of capital. This finance also needs to be thoughtful. Indigenous people will not necessarily enter into relationships with those who harm the environment and there are examples emerging of Indigenous people undertaking reverse due diligence on investors. All of this is necessary for the transition to occur at a pace that keeps the hope of achieving a 1.5°C future for the planet.

3. Genuine listening

Globally, cultures have different ways of listening, measuring and respecting conversation. In the west, silence is uncomfortable, a void we rush to fill. In Indigenous cultures, it is a mark of respect, giving weight and true concentration to the vocal offerings of others. If we pause to deeply listen to Indigenous people share their ontologies, their expertise from millennia of application, we might reconnect with nature and absorb the astonishing depth of knowledge. They have been waiting a long time to be heard.

Theory into action in the international arena

International events like the annual COP meetings or more localized — though still significant — climate events, such as the recently-concluded Sydney Climate Action Week convened by Greenhouse, are an opportunity to put these processes into action.

“We want to see indigenous knowledge and science and practices to be given the same weight as western sciences, treated equally and equitably to that of Western science including in national adaptation plans and respecting the rights of Indigenous peoples.”

Australian Representative, Indigenous Knowledge Holders Roundtable Dialogue, COP28

During Indigenous Knowledge Holders roundtable dialogue at COP28, many countries acknowledged the meaningful role of Indigenous peoples in national, regional and global climate policies and action. Likewise, in several COP28 negotiation sessions, including the Global Stocktake, non-market mechanisms and technology, countries urged recognition of Indigenous peoples’ rights and inclusion in decision making. The next step is applying the above three principles in the engagement with Indigenous peoples.


How is the World Economic Forum fighting the climate crisis?

As part of the negotiation text, developing countries proposed bridging language on references to traditional knowledge, the knowledge of Indigenous peoples and local knowledge systems as part of “best-available science,” which several parties supported. However, the entire phrase referring to “best-available science” remained bracketed, and, coming out of the Indigenous Peoples Day and Energy Transition Day at COP28, there were noticeably few new declarations or funding announcements made.

While progress is being made, this shows how critical it is that the natural leadership role of Indigenous people in addressing the climate crisis is taken seriously. That’s why, when we engage with Indigenous communities, the principles of meaningful partnership, effective resourcing and deep listening are key — without them, we risk losing the fight against climate change.

With contributions by Harry Guinness, Head of Net Zero Strategy, Greenhouse.

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