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 for example - 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 the misuse of tribal resources and sacred land, and the distortion or publication of sacred knowledge.

The article further clarifies:

"Indigenous peoples’ traditional ways of knowing and living have been refined over thousands of years of experiences and relationships with living beings and places. English language phrases denoting traditional knowledges, such as “traditional ecological knowledge,” are coined in academic and policy circles that are usually separate from indigenous peoples, and often do not fully reflect the ways in which indigenous communities refer to, or think of, their knowledge and lifeways...The Climate and Traditional Knowledges Workgroup, then, does not seek to define traditional knowledges, as each particular indigenous peoples has the right to determine how to define their knowledges. Rather, the Workgroup seeks to support the protection of traditional knowledges, knowledge holders and the right of indigenous peoples to define their own knowledges in cases where indigenous peoples consider exchanging knowledge in relation to climate change." 

The essay also discusses a set of guidelines (also by 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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