The LICCI Project: Indigenous Knowledge in the Face of Climate Change

The LICCI Project: Indigenous Knowledge in the Face of Climate Change

“Compared to when you were young, what changes in the environment have you noticed?” (1)

“The tea tastes different.” 

Coming from one person in a local community in rural China may not mean much. Coming from several people in the same community, who grow and prepare their own tea and have done so for generations, the change in taste of a traditional beverage begins to take on a greater meaning.

When these little pieces of narrative information are compiled across 179 Indigenous and local communities, in 39 countries, from 49 cultures and nationalities, the result is the Local Indicators of Climate Change Impacts project. The LICCI project (2), led by the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (ICTA-UAB), not only provides a comprehensive analysis of how climate change impacts Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, but makes important policy recommendations.

Changes in the distribution of wild plants, livestock mortality, lower catch rates, grassland degradation and shrinking wetlands, melting ice and permafrost, and changes in rain and snowfall are among the observed effects of climate change worldwide. In Brazil, traditional fishing and farming communities along the Juruá River have meticulously documented local climate changes, such as wetter summers, which are not consistently captured by broader climate models. The LICCI project researchers developed a protocol to interact with Indigenous and local community members and understand these nuanced changes. 

“Interviews start with the question ‘Compared to when you were young, what changes in the environment have you noticed?’ Additional questions can be then directed to stimulate interviewees to report changes in (a) the atmospheric (e.g., weather/seasons, temperature, rainfall and snowfall, wind, storms); (b) physical (e.g., soil, river, streams), and (c) life system (e.g., wild animals, wild plants, crops, pastures). For each observation of change, partners will also ask about the direction of change (e.g., increase/decrease, earlier/later) and the driver of the change (i.e., ‘why do you think that this happens?’ Or ‘What do you think is the cause of that?’).”

Notably, our partners on the ground report diminishing and changing wild populations of sacred medicines. The ayahuasca vine that makes it to market is thinner than it used to be, and people have to go deeper into the jungle to harvest it. Bwitists for whom Iboga is essential to their way of life must travel further to find wild Iboga. There are fewer Toads – sometimes they’re not even seen – and the rainy season comes later each year. While additional pressure on these medicines certainly comes from the increased interest from the psychedelic boom, climate change no doubt also plays a factor, and the anecdotal changes represent real shifts in species with their resulting impacts on local populations. Local knowledge is legitimate knowledge.

It’s not just noticing the changes that is uniquely powerful in the knowledge of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities. Who among us can’t name changes in the environment from when we were young? Something incredibly precious about intact Indigenous and local communities, however, is the intergenerational transmission of knowledge that still holds solutions to emergent problems. 

Highlighted in the LICCI data are examples of using sacred tree ash to ward off invasive pests and using medicinal plants to treat rising tapeworm infestations in livestock. Ancestral governance systems can help manage natural resources in ways that are naturally sustainable. True partnership between governments and Indigenous peoples can lead to better fisheries management. 

More and more evidence says that the best conservation strategies are ones that are locally developed, by the Indigenous stewards that have been safekeeping them for generations. At the Indigenous Medicine Conservation Fund, we deeply value the intricate and profound knowledge that Indigenous Peoples and local communities possess regarding climate change and its multifaceted impacts. 

These communities have long served as stewards of diverse ecosystems, playing a pivotal role in global conservation efforts. Yet, their lands and traditional practices are increasingly threatened by industrial development, including the expansion of renewable energy infrastructure. It’s imperative to recognize the critical role of Indigenous knowledge in climate change adaptation and the urgent need to protect the biocultural richness these communities preserve. Policy development and change in favor of Indigenous peoples’ autonomy will necessarily require a long-term vision for the health of the whole planet.

Current policies often prioritize market-related benefits of nature, neglecting broader values such as recreational, life-supporting, and spiritual benefits, contributing to biodiversity loss and climate crisis. Indigenous and local knowledge systems offer context-specific adaptation strategies that can guide sustainable, community-owned action plans. 

The LICCI project, alongside other studies, advocates for a rights-based approach to climate policy. Among recommendations for guiding policy change and development, they suggest that grounded Indigenous and local knowledge helps better understand the problem, and that Indigenous and local values should guide planning. Solutions should be examined across social and ecological contexts, and reviewed for unexpected and/or negative impacts. A summary of the outcomes of the LICCI project are published in the Routledge Handbook of Climate Change Impacts on Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.

We commend the LICCI team for their important work, which allows for the necessary integration of diverse voices into the global climate solution. 

The Indigenous Medicine Conservation Fund stands in unwavering solidarity with Indigenous communities to safeguard their invaluable knowledge and the biocultural richness they preserve. Findings from the LICCI project and other studies emphasize the urgent need to integrate Indigenous knowledge into global conservation efforts. This integration can foster more effective, sustainable, and equitable adaptation strategies, ensuring a resilient future for all.

Protecting the wisdom of Indigenous Peoples is not merely a moral imperative—it is indispensable for the survival of our planet.