The Ethics of Traditional Knowledge Exchange in Climate Change Initiatives

This essay from the Climate and Traditional Knowledges Workgroup (CTKW) makes the case that climate scientists, academics, policymakers, and others working with tribes to utilize traditional knowledges, need guidelines for ethical conduct for using this knowledge. The essay recognizes traditional knowledges as beneficial to climate change because of indigenous peoples’ unique knowledge of the environment but comments that there are opportunities for abuse.

Traditional knowledges, including knowledge of landscapes, waterscapes, plant and animal life, can guide and inform indigenous peoples’ strategies for adapting and mitigating to climate change. Policymakers, scientists, and others are learning that this traditional knowledge can benefit their climate adaptation work. However, this creates some ethical pitfalls, especially when outsiders do not fully understand the cultural context. More specific problems that can arise from this misunderstanding include misuse of tribal resources and sacred land and the distortion or publication of sacred knowledge.

The essay also discusses a set of guidelines (also by the CTKW) for ethical conduct when interacting with indigenous peoples. These guidelines are focused around the two principles of “Cause No Harm” and “Free, Prior, and Informed Consent,” and discuss issues related to communication and collaboration with indigenous peoples.

Publication Date: July 31, 2015

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