Protecting Indigenous People’s Land Builds Climate Resilience

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Protecting Indigenous People’s Land Builds Climate Resilience

The Indigenous People around the world have a long and painful history of abuse, displacement, being forcibly removed from their ancestral lands, and attempts by colonisers to stamp out their culture by forcing them to assimilate to the new predominant one imposed by the new settlers.

The Europeans colonised most countries from the 1500s to the 1960s, and only a handful escaped, such as Liberia in Africa, Japan, Korea, and Thailand. Countries that have been colonised and controlled by Europe, like Canada, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, African countries, and Southeast countries, have government policies that support the removal of indigenous children from their homes to assimilate them into the predominant culture.

This happened in Canada from the 1930s to the 1990s, In the US between 1819 and 1969, in Australia from 1910 to 1970, and in New Zealand in the 1970s when most Māori children were taken into state care. Of those who have been in care – 69% of them and 81% have been abused. Ulrich, one of the Māori kids raised in the system, says that it separated him from his culture and knowledge in “modern-day colonisation”.

Indigenous peoples have to confront and overcome histories of discrimination, loss, and dispossession and today, they still suffer from poverty, climate change, and loss of ancestral lands.

A 2021 study published in Science examines the long-term impacts of land dispossession on indigenous people in North America. Using new data sets at the current boundaries of the United States, researchers found that Indigenous tribes lost close to 99% of their historical land bases through European colonisation. Settlers have pushed tribes into land that is more vulnerable to climate change risks and has diminished economic value.

Protecting Indigenous People’s land rights

Today, there are an estimated 476 million Indigenous Peoples worldwide. Although they comprise just 6% of the global population, they account for about 19% of the extreme poor. They also have a lower life expectancy of up to 20 years than non-Indigenous Peoples worldwide.

During a United Nations committee meeting, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples José Francisco Calí Tzay stressed that industrialisation, overconsumption, and climate change are the real drivers of biodiversity decline on IP lands and the solution to protecting IP rights on their lands is secure indigenous land tenure and effective conservation (Indigenous Peoples, 2022).

The world has a long history of diminishing the lands of the Indigenous people. Balancing the rights of Indigenous people to their land and promoting development is a complex and sensitive issue.

A 2023 study led by the Nature Conservancy shows that almost 60% of Indigenous Peoples’ lands (equivalent to 22.7 million km2) across 64 countries and all inhabited continents are threatened by industrial development. Some countries have political, socioeconomic, and political contexts that could increase conversion risk.

According to the study, Indigenous Peoples comprise around 6.2% of the world’s population, but they formally or customarily govern at least a quarter of the global lands, the vast majority of which are in moderate to good ecological condition.

The study provides the first comprehensive, global assessment of conversion risk to Indigenous Peoples’ lands. It helps identify where and how Indigenous communities, governments and organisations can work together to benefit nature and people.

Researchers have developed a ” Rights-Representation-Capital Index” index to assess conversion vulnerability and risk to Indigenous Peoples’ lands and help identify opportunities to mitigate this risk.

The study’s co-authors, Christina Kennedy and Brandie Farris, point out that although indigenous peoples and their lands face significant threats from industrial development expansion, solutions are available.

“There are opportunities for the philanthropic world, the policy world, the corporate world and the conservation world to advocate for change. Together, we can centre Indigenous Peoples’s rights and leadership in global efforts to address biodiversity loss and climate change” (Adhya, 2023).


Effects of Colonization and Climate Change on Indigenous Languages. (n.d.). Climate in Arts & History. Retrieved from

Indigenous Peoples Still Suffer from Poverty, Climate Change and Loss of Ancestral Lands, Delegates Highlight in Third Committee. (2022, October 12). United Nations. Retrieved from

Corlett, E. (2022, March 18). ‘The gates of hell opened’: after decades, Māori survivors of state abuse are finally heard. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Fisher, M. (2015, February 24). Map: European colonialism conquered every country in the world but these five. Vox. Retrieved from

Farrell, J., Burow, P., McConnell, K., Bayham, J., Whyte, K., & Koss, G. (2021, October 29). Effects of land dispossession and forced migration on Indigenous peoples in North America. Science. Retrieved from

Indigenous Peoples. (2024). The World Bank. Retrieved from

Kennedy, C., Farris, B., Oakleaf, J., Garnett, S., Llamazares, A., Fa, J., Mordo, S., & Kiesecker, J. (2023, August 8). Indigenous Peoples’ lands are threatened by industrial development; conversion risk. One Earth. Retrieved from

Adhya, S. (2023, August 8). Amid Industrial Development Threats to Lands, Major Opportunities to Support Indigenous Stewardship. The Nature Conservancy. Retrieved from

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