Local Caribbean Knowledge Is A Vital Resource In Addressing Climate Change

The Caribbean is one of the most susceptible regions in the world to climate change and building resilience is a major developmental challenge. This paper, suggests that local and traditional knowledge (LTK) is an invaluable resource and cultural capital that is underutilized in climate change adaptation response in the Caribbean.

The paper proposes ongoing comprehensive research and documentation of local and traditional knowledge and practices in the Caribbean through the development of a Caribbean Local Traditional Knowledge Network (CLTKN) tasked with harnessing LTK in the region and establishing complementarity with formal science.

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LTK in Caribbean Climate Change Adaptation

Although LTK is a foundation for community-based action to build climate change resiliency, there are still relatively few references to this in the climate change literature (Ajani, et al., 2013; Kelman and West, 2009; Raygorodetsky, 2011). Until fairly recently, LTK was also excluded from climate change policy and decision-making at the very highest level including the leading authority on climate change in the world, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessments (Alexander et al., 2011).

In the context of the Caribbean, the Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI) (2013) purports that traditional knowledge has not been adequately considered to build climate change resilience in key sectors like agriculture and tourism. One reason for this is the perception that local knowledge is inferior to formal western scientific knowledge.

This approach is contradicted by a growing body of research advocating synergies between traditional knowledge and modern science (Ajani et al., 2013; Thaman et al., 2013).  Local community-based knowledge has unique value as it may provide more nuanced insights and context to scientific data (Nakashima et al., 2012).

Caribbean Traditional Local Knowledge Network

The Caribbean Traditional Local Knowledge Network being proposed is a coordinated combination of tools and methodologies including a website, video resources, documentaries, workshops and seminars across the region and presentations at schools and other educational institutions. Mass media and social media presence would also be key components.

The CLTKN would draw on local and traditional knowledge of a wide cross-section of Caribbean people including grassroots organizations, community elders, women, indigenous populations, and people whose activities closely interface with environmental conditions and changes including farmers and fishers.

The roles and functions of the proposed CLTKN would be:

  1. The collection, storage, validation, and dissemination of local knowledge about climate-related environmental change.
  2. Identification and archiving of collective and community-based climate change adaptation and coping practices.
  3. Facilitation of greater understanding of the information needs of local peoples and communities that can inform their local problem-solving and decision-making, and build climate change resilience at the community level.
  4. Promoting the theoretical and practical value of local traditional knowledge in formal education at the primary, secondary and post-secondary levels, and through public education.
  5. Researching effective strategies for joining modern science and traditional knowledge and disseminating this information through a variety of media.
  6. Documenting exemplary practices of a successful combination of modern science and local traditional knowledge.

Conclusion

In the Caribbean, LTK is an untapped community resource and cultural capital and could be instrumental in addressing climate change challenges.

Combining LTK with modern science can advance the climate change agenda in the region and the CLTKN is a mechanism through which this could be achieved. Local knowledge is a critical source of information for action, as solutions that are adapted to unique local contexts will be most effective.

References

  • Ajani, E.N., Mgbenka, R.N. & Okeke, M.N. (2013). Use of indigenous knowledge as a strategy for climate change adaptation among farmers in sub-Saharan Africa: Implications for policy. Asian Journal of Agricultural Extension, Economics & Sociology, 2(1), 23-40.
  • Alexander, C., Bynum, N., Johnson, E., King, U., Mustonen, T., Neofotis, P., Weeks, B. (2011). Linking indigenous and scientific knowledge of climate change. BioScience 61(6), 477-83.
  • Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI). (2013). Using traditional knowledge for decision-making on climate change in the Caribbean. CANARI Policy Brief No. 15.
  • Kelman, I. & West, J.J. (2009). Climate change and small island developing states: A critical review. Ecological and Environmental Anthropology, 5(1), 1-16.
  • Mercer, J., Kelman, I., Alfthan, B. & Kurvits, T. (2012). Ecosystem-Based adaptation to climate change in Caribbean small island developing states: Integrating local and external knowledge. Sustainability, 4, 1904-1932.
  • Nakashima, D. Galloway McLean, K., Thulstrup, H., Ramos Castillo, A. & Rubis, J (2012). Weathering Uncertainty: Traditional knowledge for climate change assessment and adaptation. Paris: UNESCO, and Darwin, United Nations University.
  • Raygorodetsky, G. (2011). Why traditional knowledge holds key to climate change Viewed 20 March, 2016 from http://unu.edu/publications/articles/why-traditional-knowledge-holds-the-key-to-climate-change.htm/
  • Thaman, R., Lyver, P., Mpande, R., Perez, E., Carino, J. & Takeuchi, K. (eds.) (2013). The contribution of indigenous and local knowledge systems to IPBES: Building synergies with science. IPBES Expert Meeting Report, June 9-11 Tokyo, Japan. Paris: UNESCO.

This study, Climate change resiliency in Caribbean SIDS: building greater synergies between science and local and traditional knowledge was recently published in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences.

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