A Spatial Analysis of Climate Change Impacts on Indigenous Peoples in Ecuador
Climate change has become a nearly ubiquitous topic in global politics, with international governing bodies like the UNFCCC working tirelessly on plans to mitigate and adapt to the myriad problems it poses. Environmental Justice has become a new focus of this enterprise, but one group that is often forgotten in discussions of global climate justice is indigenous peoples, who make up just 5% of the world’s population, but protect 80% of its biodiversity. Not only that, but indigenous peoples are among the best stewards of nature, in many cases having lived for centuries in harmony with their environments in a way that utilizes natural resources, but also does not destroy them. While organizations like the UNFCCC are increasingly giving indigenous peoples a voice, much remains to be studied regarding exactly how climate change will impact these peoples – especially because the impacts they will face are inherently different than those facing other marginalized peoples, because their land is part of what ties indigenous peoples together. As climate change worsens and climate-induced migration becomes more widespread, many indigenous groups might be looking at total destruction as they are forced to leave the land they have always inhabited.
This study investigates these phenomena in Ecuador, a tropical country with at least 15 distinct indigenous nations spanning 3 different biomes. While much data already exists on levels of biodiversity and predicted climate impacts in this region, no study has brought it all together specifically regarding the indigenous groups in the country, with the aim of understanding how they will be impacted. This study compiles climate change predictions for the different regions under 3 different representative concentration pathways (RCP’s), and performs risk assessments to understand the major risks faced by each group. Each Indigenous group in Ecuador is highly vulnerable to different impacts of climate change, from sea level rise and flooding on the coast, to glacier melt in the Andes, to extreme heat in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Policies will have to be put in place to mitigate these impacts, and this study recommends that Ecuador significantly scale up recognition of Indigenous land rights, stop extractivist activities in Indigenous lands, particularly the Amazon, and empower Indigenous Peoples to create their own climate-related policy.