Natural climate solutions are implemented with full engagement of Indigenous Peoples and local communities and work to mitigate inequalities and injustices.

Prepared by Natalie Baillargeon and Sue Natali



Natural climate solutions should be implemented with full engagement of Indigenous Peoples and local communities in a way that ensures respect for their land, culture, and human rights. The historical legacies and ongoing effects of institutional racism will require particular care to include the knowledge and interests of these communities. When implementing natural climate solutions consultation, participatory engagement, negotiations, and consent should be received.

Description and Rationale

Mitigating Existing Impacts. Due to institutional racism and inequity, minority and low-income communities have been disproportionately harmed by environmental hazards (Bullard 1993; Schlosberg & Collins 2014). With this history in mind, natural climate solutions (NCS) should consider and attempt to mitigate these hazards. For example, in the same city, redlined communities had 2.4 times the rate of hospitalization for asthma compared to non-redlined communities (Nardone et al. 2020). While Executive Order 12898, “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations” was signed over 20 years ago, much of its mandate to consider environmental justice in decision making has yet to occur and/or has weakened over time (Provost & Gerber 2018). To do this, antiracist policies and processes should be incorporated into NCS; for example, redlined communities suffering from asthma, heat, and other environmental hazards should be systematically targeted for restoration effects.

In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency created a mapping tool (EJSCREEN) that combines environmental and demographic indicators, to make environmental justice decision making more available (U.S. EPA 2014). Yet, this tool is underutilized and does not consider granular environmental hazards or impacts of climate change. While the tool is not perfect, it can be used to identify minority and/or low-income populations and environmental issues (if any); ideally, this tool is combined with other tools that map future climate risks (U.S. EPA 2014). States, like California, have built more comprehensive mapping and utilize the tool in decision making (Rodriquez & Zeise 2017).

Further, uses of environmental goods (e.g., animals, fungi, and plants) for food, medicine, and other purposes plays an important role in the cultures and economies of many Indigenous peoples and local communities (Hurley and Halfacre 2011, Lynn et al. 2013, Vogesser et al. 2013), such values are further explored in Principle #4. Natural climate solutions should avoid disrupting these uses and seek opportunities to enhance them where possible. Where it has been retained, the knowledge developed through these practices can be an important source of information for design (Lake et al. 2018), implementation, and monitoring of natural climate solutions.

Finally, it should be acknowledged that Indigenous Peoples have been stewards of their lands for thousands of years and they continue to have rights and interests in many of those lands. As of 2020, there are 574 federally recognized tribes and 63 state recognized tribes in 11 states (NCAI 2020), many of which have legal rights to access resources for fishing, gathering, hunting, and trapping on designated federal and state lands (Emery and Pierce 2005). In addition, more than 18 million acres of tribal forest lands are held in trust by the United States (IFMAT 2013). Many natural climate solutions, such as prescribed burning, are Indigenous practices that successfully protect and manage the environment. These may be disrupted or enhanced by natural climate solutions.

How the principle may be applied

Indigenous Leadership. As mentioned above, Indigenous Peoples have been stewards of land for thousands of years. Therefore, their cultural and traditional knowledge should be respected, and when possible, Indigenous-led solutions should be incorporated. For example, Indigenous Peoples in Western U.S conduct prescribed burning (as well as cultural burning) to control wildfires. This is a NCS as it reduces the intensity and frequency of wildfires. Over the decades, they have lost the ability to do such burning due to regulation. This is how, by reversing and allowing Indigenous-led solutions to be utilized, NCS can fully engage with Indigenous Peoples and mitigate inequalities/injustices.

If practices do not involve Indigenous-led practices and solutions, NCS should be implemented after consultation, participatory engagement, negotiations, and consent; an approach under the principle of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) laid out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. While FPIC, in the context of U.S public lands, does not yet have a consensus around definitional and implementation, the FPIC approach is still important when considering NCS.

Consultation. Successful implementation of NCS requires prior knowledge of the relevant stakeholders, including Indigenous Peoples and local communities, who will be impacted by the NCS policy. For example, EPA’s EJSCREEN can be utilized to understand the communities that reside in the area, and the environmental hazards (if any) that are in the community. Jurisdictions implementing NCS should communicate and engage with stakeholders prior to developing NCS implementation plans in order to understand the impacts of the NCS and to identify ways of mitigating potential negative impacts and maximizing positive outcomes. The consultation process should allow proper and culturally appropriate engagement for impacted communities to understand the process and proposed NCS practice, and to provide input, which should be incorporated into NCS planning and implementation.

Participatory engagement. Consultation provides an opportunity to share information and seek advice, while participatory engagement takes this a step further by involving Indigenous Peoples and local communities in the decision making and integrating their input into the NCS implementation plan through an iterative process. Consultation and participatory engagement also provides an opportunity to seek guidance from Indigenous Peoples and local communities who have a deep understanding of land management and preservation, leading to more effective NCS practices that can simultaneously protect the local environment and economies, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Negotiations and Consent. With active consultation and participatory engagement, less emphasis is required for negotiation or consent; however, those actions do not replace consent. Consent requires the option to withhold consent, and Indigenous Peoples and local communities having a clear understanding of the agreement. To gain consent, the correct and representative stakeholders should be included as well as the appropriate method to have it given.


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