Human Rights, Indigenous Peoples, and the Global Climate Crisis

26 Pages Posted: 14 Feb 2019

See all articles by M. Alexander Pearl

M. Alexander Pearl

University of Oklahoma College of Law

Date Written: 2018


The global climate crisis is an ongoing event the likes of which we have yet to experience. The science is clear, the phenomenon is traceable, and the effects are far-reaching. But, the consequences of the climate crisis affect particular populations more so than others, and often times the affected populations are voiceless. Among those most impacted are indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples stand in a unique place in the context of climate change. In general, indigenous peoples have a comprehensive relationship with their place and surroundings, which incorporates culture, livelihood, economy, and a defining sense of self. Land and resources are not simply commodities to be bought and sold, but they function to give us our stories, directions, and identity. With many indigenous peoples existing in remote areas, the effects of climate change — like sea level rise and changing rainfall — have an enhanced negative effect. Indigenous relationships with land renders what is at stake all the more dire.

Given the political invisibility of most indigenous communities and the longstanding global resistance to indigenous self-determination, indigenous peoples are left without plausible means to engage in traditional democratic processes with any hope of success. Furthermore, the commons nature of the problem of climate change precludes indigenous peoples from simply utilizing their resources differently in order to avoid the effects of climate change. Therefore, the law is where indigenous peoples must look for aid. The framework of human rights law has the potential for employment as an important legal tool to further indigenous resistance and resilience in the face of the climate crisis and continuing domestic political paralysis. This Article outlines the unique commons problems presented by the global climate crisis. I argue that indigenous peoples are negatively affected at a far greater rate and to a far greater extent than nonindigenous populations. The past few years have highlighted the role that indigenous peoples play in the fight against climate change by the mainstream focus on the fight over pipelines in indigenous areas. Indigenous peoples across the globe will not stand idle while carbon industries march on, but the fight must utilize the law rather than merely act despite it through direct action protests. The opportunity to couple the human rights framework with the indigenous rights framework carries great possibility for enhancing advocacy on behalf of indigenous peoples.

Keywords: Indigenous Peoples, Climate Change, Human Rights, Climate Refugees

Suggested Citation

Pearl, M. Alexander, Human Rights, Indigenous Peoples, and the Global Climate Crisis (2018). Wake Forest Law Review, Vol. 53, No. 713, 2018, Available at SSRN:

M. Alexander Pearl (Contact Author)

University of Oklahoma College of Law ( email )

300 Timberdell Road
Norman, OK 73019
United States

Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics