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COP 21: Indigenous spiritual and cultural values to guide climate change adaptation

09 Dec 2015

Respect for the spiritual values and traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples is a key component in the response to climate change, as was today asserted by an agreement between the Center for Earth Ethics (CEE) of Union Theological Seminary, the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) at Columbia University, and the Indigenous Peoples Biocultural Assessments Initiative (IPBCCA) of Asociacion ANDES.

Indigenous Peoples Biocultural Assessments Initiative
“Indigenous spirituality seeks powerful connection to larger purposes and meaning, celebrates biodiversity and promotes inclusion”, says Karenna Gore, Director of CEE.  She added, “The world especially needs that kind of worldview at this time. This great body of knowledge has a wealth of adaptive capacity. It not only protects the wellbeing of indigenous peoples; it also promotes an awareness of our deep interconnected relationship with nature that can enhance our world as a whole."
A key goal of the IPBCCA Initiative has been to promote the capacity of spiritual traditions to help with local adaptation to climate change. “Spiritual traditions provide meaning and identity, assist in building resilience in communities that are key for developing locally sound mitigation and adaptation responses”, says Alejandro Argumedo, Director of Asociación ANDES, an NGO based in Cusco, Peru and serving as Secretariat of the IPBCCA initiative. “Concepts of ecosystem and community-base adaptation intersect with indigenous concepts and experiences of spirituality; this provides a unique framework to harmonize wellbeing and resilience in climate change adaptation responses”. The IPBCCA is an indigenous led initiative carrying out local assessments in all regions of the world to provide a deeper understanding of local processes and how they relate to climate change. Its goal is to develop locally sound mitigation and adaptation responses for indigenous communities, and feeding into effective policies across scales.
Technical and scientific support to these local assessments will be provided by the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) at Columbia University, to enhance the results of the assessments and provide evidence for effective local adaptation. “Local approaches demonstrate the importance of valuing both western and traditional knowledge” says Ben Orlove of CRED. “Concrete and practical examples, like these local assessments of the IPBCCA, release Indigenous knowledge from preconceptions that it is ‘exotic’ or romantic. They remind us that we scientists and traditional knowledge holders are all grappling with the same questions about climate change. We both take the view that this is an event subject to external control of a transcendental nature”.
“Spirituality and traditional knowledge are dynamic, evolving expressions of Indigineity” concludes Argumedo. “Spirituality and ancestral knowledge connect past, present and future. They remind us that there are many ways of knowing, that science too has limitations, and that dominant world cultures need not be accepted uncritically”. Mindahi Bastida, Otomi spiritual leader and scholar in Residence at CEE adds: “Indigenous spirituality draw our attention to our common humanity, to the importance of family and community, to the importance of celebration and ritual, and to the values of humility and compassion. These cultural practices provide some measure of certainty in an otherwise uncertain world that climate change has brought upon us”. 
The agreement of collaboration between the CEE, CRED and ANDES will serve as a platform to exchange information on climate change, identify critical institutional and technical gaps, and explore the role that indigenous peoples' spiritual traditions, scientific understanding and traditional knowledge can play in the development of culturally appropriate responses to climate change. A synthesis report of the IPBCCA initiative will be produced for early 2016 as a result of this agreement.
Karenna Gore, Director, Center for Earth Ethics (CEE): 
Ben Orlove, Director, Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED)
Alejandro Argumedo