Indigenous Environmental Knowledge and Climate Change Adaptation

Book Chapter in: Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples: The Search for Legal Remedies (Randall S. Abate & Elizabeth Ann Kronk, eds., Edward Elgar 2013)

Posted: 27 Jan 2014

See all articles by Maxine Burkett

Maxine Burkett

University of Hawaii at Manoa - William S. Richardson School of Law

Date Written: 2013

Abstract

Certain climate change impacts are now unavoidable. The importance of adapting to climate change impacts has become increasingly clear, particularly at the local and regional scales. Many entities are looking to community-based adaptation as a place-based response, and a vehicle for empowering individuals, families and peoples. In regions across the world, including the Pacific, an appeal to indigenous environmental knowledge (IEK) is also emerging. This chapter explores the possible integration of IEK into the laws governing climate change adaptation.

Integration of IEK, in the adaptation context, describes at least two different phenomena. It describes the indigenous methods used to respond to historical extremes that climate forecasts portend with greater frequency and severity – such as floods and drought – and suggests proven adaptations. It can also describe a lens, or worldview, with which decisions should be made that might facilitate long-range, multigenerational adaptive governance.

While there have been multi-scalar efforts to support IEK methods on an ad hoc basis, few have attempted to harmonize core indigenous worldviews with discrete methods used in the Western context. In other words, Western researchers and practitioners generally investigate and employ specific management strategies without also exploring and introducing the relevant worldviews that have fostered such strategies. Moreover, there has been even less discussion of how to integrate these worldviews into the emerging legal adaptation framework to foster climate resilience in indigenous communities and beyond.

Water resource management in Hawaii serves as one example of how such integration might work, while furthering resource resilience in the face of additional climate change-related stressors. By charting the evolution of the public trust doctrine and water management in Hawaii – from the Hawaiian Kingdom to contemporary Hawaii jurisprudence – ways in which the emerging law of adaptation can support IEK and how IEK can strengthen climate law become clearer.

Keywords: traditional knowledge, climate change, climate justice, environmental justice, climate adaptation

JEL Classification: K23, K32, K33

Suggested Citation

Burkett, Maxine, Indigenous Environmental Knowledge and Climate Change Adaptation (2013). Book Chapter in: Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples: The Search for Legal Remedies (Randall S. Abate & Elizabeth Ann Kronk, eds., Edward Elgar 2013). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2385397

Maxine Burkett (Contact Author)

University of Hawaii at Manoa - William S. Richardson School of Law ( email )

2515 Dole Street
Honolulu, HI 96822-2350
United States

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