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How does climate change affect people’s cultures, political situations and economies??
What is UNDRIP and how do Indigenous peoples use it for the sake of protecting their cultural integrity?
Why is climate change an issue of human rights (Indigenous rights) for Indigenous peoples?
What is climate justice?
Published by the United Nations
on the Rights
on the Rights
United Nations Declaration
on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Resolution adopted by the General Assembly
[without reference to a Main Committee (A/61/L.67 and Add.1)]
61/295. United Nations Declaration on the Rights of
The General Assembly,
Taking note of the recommendation of the Human Rights Council contained in its resolution 1/2 of 29 June 2006,1
by which the
Council adopted the text of the United Nations Declaration on the
Rights of Indigenous Peoples,
Recalling its resolution 61/178 of 20 December 2006, by which
it decided to defer consideration of and action on the Declaration
to allow time for further consultations thereon, and also decided to
conclude its consideration before the end of the sixty-first session of
the General Assembly,
Adopts the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous
Peoples as contained in the annex to the present resolution.
107th plenary meeting
13 September 2007
United Nations Declaration on the
Rights of Indigenous Peoples
The General Assembly,
Guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United
Nations, and good faith in the fulfilment of the obligations assumed
by States in accordance with the Charter,
Affirming that indigenous peoples are equal to all other peoples,
while recognizing the right of all peoples to be different, to consider
themselves different, and to be respected as such,
1.See Official Records of the General Assembly, Sixty-first Session,
Supplement No. 53 (A/61/53), part one, chap. II, sect. A.
Affirming also that all peoples contribute to the diversity and richness of civilizations and cultures, which constitute the common heritage of humankind,
Affirming further that all doctrines, policies and practices based on
or advocating superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of
national origin or racial, religious, ethnic or cultural differences are
racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and
Reaffirming that indigenous peoples, in the exercise of their rights,
should be free from discrimination of any kind,
Concerned that indigenous peoples have suffered from historic injustices as a result of, inter alia, their colonization and dispossession
of their lands, territories and resources, thus preventing them from
exercising, in particular, their right to development in accordance
with their own needs and interests,
Recognizing the urgent need to respect and promote the inherent
rights of indigenous peoples which derive from their political, economic and social structures and from their cultures, spiritual traditions, histories and philosophies, especially their rights to their lands,
territories and resources,
Recognizing also the urgent need to respect and promote the rights
of indigenous peoples affirmed in treaties, agreements and other
constructive arrangements with States,
Welcoming the fact that indigenous peoples are organizing themselves for political, economic, social and cultural enhancement and
in order to bring to an end all forms of discrimination and oppression wherever they occur,
Convinced that control by indigenous peoples over developments
affecting them and their lands, territories and resources will enable
them to maintain and strengthen their institutions, cultures and traditions, and to promote their development in accordance with their
aspirations and needs,
Recognizing that respect for indigenous knowledge, cultures and
traditional practices contributes to sustainable and equitable development and proper management of the environment,
Emphasizing the contribution of the demilitarization of the lands
and territories of indigenous peoples to peace, economic and social
progress and development, understanding and friendly relations
among nations and peoples of the world,
Recognizing in particular the right of indigenous families and communities to retain shared responsibility for the upbringing, training,
education and well-being of their children, consistent with the rights
of the child,
Considering that the rights affirmed in treaties, agreements and other
constructive arrangements between States and indigenous peoples
are, in some situations, matters of international concern, interest,
responsibility and character,
Considering also that treaties, agreements and other constructive
arrangements, and the relationship they represent, are the basis for a
strengthened partnership between indigenous peoples and States,
Acknowledging that the Charter of the United Nations, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights2
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,2
as well as the
Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action,3
affirm the fundamental importance of the right to self-determination of all peoples,
by virtue of which they freely determine their political status and
freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development,
Bearing in mind that nothing in this Declaration may be used to
deny any peoples their right to self-determination, exercised in conformity with international law,
Convinced that the recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples
in this Declaration will enhance harmonious and cooperative relations between the State and indigenous peoples, based on principles
of justice, democracy, respect for human rights, non-discrimination
and good faith,
Encouraging States to comply with and effectively implement all
their obligations as they apply to indigenous peoples under international instruments, in particular those related to human rights, in
consultation and cooperation with the peoples concerned,
Emphasizing that the United Nations has an important and continuing role to play in promoting and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples,
2.See resolution 2200 A (XXI), annex.
3.A/CONF.157/24 (Part I), chap. III.
Believing that this Declaration is a further important step forward
for the recognition, promotion and protection of the rights and
freedoms of indigenous peoples and in the development of relevant
activities of the United Nations system in this field,
Recognizing and reaffirming that indigenous individuals are entitled without discrimination to all human rights recognized in international law, and that indigenous peoples possess collective rights
which are indispensable for their existence, well-being and integral
development as peoples,
Recognizing that the situation of indigenous peoples varies from
region to region and from country to country and that the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical
and cultural backgrounds should be taken into consideration,
Solemnly proclaims the following United Nations Declaration on the
Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a standard of achievement to be
pursued in a spirit of partnership and mutual respect:
Indigenous peoples have the right to the full enjoyment, as a collective or as individuals, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms
as recognized in the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights4
and international human rights law.
Indigenous peoples and individuals are free and equal to all other
peoples and individuals and have the right to be free from any kind
of discrimination, in the exercise of their rights, in particular that
based on their indigenous origin or identity.
Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue
of that right they freely determine their political status and freely
pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
Indigenous peoples, in exercising their right to self-determination,
have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to
4.Resolution 217 A (III).
their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions.
Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their
distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions,
while retaining their right to participate fully, if they so choose, in
the political, economic, social and cultural life of the State.
Every indigenous individual has the right to a nationality.
1. Indigenous individuals have the rights to life, physical and mental integrity, liberty and security of person.
2. Indigenous peoples have the collective right to live in freedom,
peace and security as distinct peoples and shall not be subjected to
any act of genocide or any other act of violence, including forcibly
removing children of the group to another group.
1. Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be
subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.
2. States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and
(a) Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them
of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values
or ethnic identities;
(b) Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing
them of their lands, territories or resources;
(c) Any form of forced population transfer which has the aim
or effect of violating or undermining any of their rights;
(d) Any form of forced assimilation or integration;
(e) Any form of propaganda designed to promote or incite
racial or ethnic discrimination directed against them.
Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right to belong to an
indigenous community or nation, in accordance with the traditions
and customs of the community or nation concerned. No discrimination of any kind may arise from the exercise of such a right.
Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or
territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and
informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after
agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with
the option of return.
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to practise and revitalize their
cultural traditions and customs. This includes the right to maintain,
protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of
their cultures, such as archaeological and historical sites, artefacts,
designs, ceremonies, technologies and visual and performing arts
2. States shall provide redress through effective mechanisms, which
may include restitution, developed in conjunction with indigenous
peoples, with respect to their cultural, intellectual, religious and spiritual property taken without their free, prior and informed consent
or in violation of their laws, traditions and customs.
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to manifest, practise, develop
and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies; the right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy
to their religious and cultural sites; the right to the use and control
of their ceremonial objects; and the right to the repatriation of their
2. States shall seek to enable the access and/or repatriation of ceremonial objects and human remains in their possession through fair,
transparent and effective mechanisms developed in conjunction with
indigenous peoples concerned.
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and
transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate
and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.
2. States shall take effective measures to ensure that this right is
protected and also to ensure that indigenous peoples can understand
and be understood in political, legal and administrative proceedings,
where necessary through the provision of interpretation or by other
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their
educational systems and institutions providing education in their
own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of
teaching and learning.
2. Indigenous individuals, particularly children, have the right to
all levels and forms of education of the State without discrimination.
3. States shall, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, take effective measures, in order for indigenous individuals, particularly children, including those living outside their communities, to have
access, when possible, to an education in their own culture and provided in their own language.
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the dignity and diversity
of their cultures, traditions, histories and aspirations which shall be
appropriately reflected in education and public information.
2. States shall take effective measures, in consultation and cooperation with the indigenous peoples concerned, to combat prejudice
and eliminate discrimination and to promote tolerance, understanding and good relations among indigenous peoples and all other segments of society.
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to establish their own media in
their own languages and to have access to all forms of non-indigenous
media without discrimination.
2. States shall take effective measures to ensure that State-owned
media duly reflect indigenous cultural diversity. States, without
prejudice to ensuring full freedom of expression, should encourage privately owned media to adequately reflect indigenous cultural
1. Indigenous individuals and peoples have the right to enjoy fully
all rights established under applicable international and domestic
2. States shall in consultation and cooperation with indigenous
peoples take specific measures to protect indigenous children from
economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely
to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be
harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or
social development, taking into account their special vulnerability
and the importance of education for their empowerment.
3. Indigenous individuals have the right not to be subjected to any
discriminatory conditions of labour and, inter alia, employment or
Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making
in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives
chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures,
as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decisionmaking institutions.
States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous
peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in
order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that
may affect them.
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and develop their
political, economic and social systems or institutions, to be secure
in the enjoyment of their own means of subsistence and development, and to engage freely in all their traditional and other economic activities.
2. Indigenous peoples deprived of their means of subsistence and
development are entitled to just and fair redress.
1. Indigenous peoples have the right, without discrimination, to
the improvement of their economic and social conditions, including,
inter alia, in the areas of education, employment, vocational training
and retraining, housing, sanitation, health and social security.
2. States shall take effective measures and, where appropriate, special measures to ensure continuing improvement of their economic
and social conditions. Particular attention shall be paid to the rights
and special needs of indigenous elders, women, youth, children and
persons with disabilities.
1. Particular attention shall be paid to the rights and special needs
of indigenous elders, women, youth, children and persons with disabilities in the implementation of this Declaration.
2. States shall take measures, in conjunction with indigenous peoples,
to ensure that indigenous women and children enjoy the full protection
and guarantees against all forms of violence and discrimination.
Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for exercising their right to development. In
particular, indigenous peoples have the right to be actively involved
in developing and determining health, housing and other economic
and social programmes affecting them and, as far as possible, to
administer such programmes through their own institutions.
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to their traditional medicines
and to maintain their health practices, including the conservation of
their vital medicinal plants, animals and minerals. Indigenous individuals also have the right to access, without any discrimination, to
all social and health services.
2. Indigenous individuals have an equal right to the enjoyment of
the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. States
shall take the necessary steps with a view to achieving progressively
the full realization of this right.
Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their
distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or
otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal
seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to
future generations in this regard.
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and
resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.
2. Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and
control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use,
as well as those which they have otherwise acquired.
3. States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands,
territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with
due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the
indigenous peoples concerned.
States shall establish and implement, in conjunction with indigenous peoples concerned, a fair, independent, impartial, open and
transparent process, giving due recognition to indigenous peoples’
laws, traditions, customs and land tenure systems, to recognize and
adjudicate the rights of indigenous peoples pertaining to their lands,
territories and resources, including those which were traditionally
owned or otherwise occupied or used. Indigenous peoples shall have
the right to participate in this process.
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to redress, by means that can
include restitution or, when this is not possible, just, fair and equitable compensation, for the lands, territories and resources which they
have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and which
have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without
their free, prior and informed consent.
2. Unless otherwise freely agreed upon by the peoples concerned,
compensation shall take the form of lands, territories and resources
equal in quality, size and legal status or of monetary compensation
or other appropriate redress.
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands
or territories and resources. States shall establish and implement
assistance programmes for indigenous peoples for such conservation
and protection, without discrimination.
2. States shall take effective measures to ensure that no storage or
disposal of hazardous materials shall take place in the lands or territories of indigenous peoples without their free, prior and informed
3. States shall also take effective measures to ensure, as needed,
that programmes for monitoring, maintaining and restoring the
health of indigenous peoples, as developed and implemented by the
peoples affected by such materials, are duly implemented.
1. Military activities shall not take place in the lands or territories
of indigenous peoples, unless justified by a relevant public interest or
otherwise freely agreed with or requested by the indigenous peoples
2. States shall undertake effective consultations with the indigenous peoples concerned, through appropriate procedures and in
particular through their representative institutions, prior to using
their lands or territories for military activities.
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect
and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their
sciences, technologies and cultures, including human and genetic
resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna
and flora, oral traditions, literatures, designs, sports and traditional
games and visual and performing arts. They also have the right to
maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property
over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional
2. In conjunction with indigenous peoples, States shall take effective measures to recognize and protect the exercise of these rights.
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop
priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or
territories and other resources.
2. States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the
approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other
resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.
3. States shall provide effective mechanisms for just and fair redress
for any such activities, and appropriate measures shall be taken to
mitigate adverse environmental, economic, social, cultural or spiritual impact.
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to determine their own identity or membership in accordance with their customs and traditions.
This does not impair the right of indigenous individuals to obtain
citizenship of the States in which they live.
2. Indigenous peoples have the right to determine the structures
and to select the membership of their institutions in accordance with
their own procedures.
Indigenous peoples have the right to promote, develop and maintain their institutional structures and their distinctive customs, spirituality, traditions, procedures, practices and, in the cases where they
exist, juridical systems or customs, in accordance with international
human rights standards.
Indigenous peoples have the right to determine the responsibilities
of individuals to their communities.
1. Indigenous peoples, in particular those divided by international
borders, have the right to maintain and develop contacts, relations
and cooperation, including activities for spiritual, cultural, political,
economic and social purposes, with their own members as well as
other peoples across borders.
2. States, in consultation and cooperation with indigenous peoples, shall take effective measures to facilitate the exercise and ensure
the implementation of this right.
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the recognition, observance and enforcement of treaties, agreements and other constructive
arrangements concluded with States or their successors and to have
States honour and respect such treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements.
2. Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as diminishing
or eliminating the rights of indigenous peoples contained in treaties,
agreements and other constructive arrangements.
States, in consultation and cooperation with indigenous peoples,
shall take the appropriate measures, including legislative measures,
to achieve the ends of this Declaration.
Indigenous peoples have the right to have access to financial and
technical assistance from States and through international cooperation, for the enjoyment of the rights contained in this Declaration.
Indigenous peoples have the right to access to and prompt decision
through just and fair procedures for the resolution of conflicts and
disputes with States or other parties, as well as to effective remedies
for all infringements of their individual and collective rights. Such
a decision shall give due consideration to the customs, traditions,
rules and legal systems of the indigenous peoples concerned and
international human rights.
The organs and specialized agencies of the United Nations system
and other intergovernmental organizations shall contribute to the full
realization of the provisions of this Declaration through the mobilization, inter alia, of financial cooperation and technical assistance. Ways
and means of ensuring participation of indigenous peoples on issues
affecting them shall be established.
The United Nations, its bodies, including the Permanent Forum on
Indigenous Issues, and specialized agencies, including at the country level, and States shall promote respect for and full application of
the provisions of this Declaration and follow up the effectiveness of
The rights recognized herein constitute the minimum standards for
the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the
All the rights and freedoms recognized herein are equally guaranteed to male and female indigenous individuals.
Nothing in this Declaration may be construed as diminishing
or extinguishing the rights indigenous peoples have now or may
acquire in the future.
1. Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for
any State, people, group or person any right to engage in any activity
or to perform any act contrary to the Charter of the United Nations
or construed as authorizing or encouraging any action which would
dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or
political unity of sovereign and independent States.
2. In the exercise of the rights enunciated in the present Declaration, human rights and fundamental freedoms of all shall be
respected. The exercise of the rights set forth in this Declaration
shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law
and in accordance with international human rights obligations. Any
such limitations shall be non-discriminatory and strictly necessary
solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for
the rights and freedoms of others and for meeting the just and most
compelling requirements of a democratic society.
3. The provisions set forth in this Declaration shall be interpreted
in accordance with the principles of justice, democracy, respect for
human rights, equality, non-discrimination, good governance and
112 NATURE CLIMATE CHANGE | VOL 3 | FEBRUARY 2013 | www.nature.com/natureclimatechange
Responding to climate change is about adjusting to risks,
either in reaction to or in anticipation of changes arising
from changing weather and climate. Research and policy
on adaptation and mitigation has largely focused on the material
aspects of climate change, including risks to lives and livelihoods,
the costs of decarbonizing economies and the costs of impacts
on various sectors of the economy1
. These are, for the most part,
quantifiable and therefore conventionally included in policy analyses. No less important, however, are the cultural dimensions of
Culture is important for understanding both mitigation of and
adaptation to climate change, and of course plays its part in framing climate change as a phenomenon of concern to society. Culture
is embedded in the dominant modes of production, consumption,
lifestyles and social organization that give rise to emissions of
greenhouse gases. The consequences of these emissions—climate
change impacts—are given meaning through cultural interpretations of science and risk2–4. Culture is no less central to understanding and implementing adaptation: the identification of risks,
decisions about responses, and means of implementation are all
mediated by culture. Cultures are dynamic and reflexive and so are
in turn shaped by the idea of climate change. Hence culture, and
its analysis, is central to understanding the causes and meaning of,
and human responses to climate change.
Here we focus on weather and climate-related risks and the
cultural dimensions of adaptation responses, while recognizing
that culture plays an equally central role in energy, technology
and mitigation. Our scope is restricted to cultural aspects of risks
and adaptation, and in particular the non-material processes and
resources that enable people to lead meaningful and dignified
lives, yet which are at risk from climate change. We analyse the
evidence from a wave of new social science research into these
hitherto under-emphasized cultural dimensions of climate change
risks and responses, and suggest how they might inform adaptation planning. This recent body of work shows that climate change
exacerbates risks to cultures; that most contemporary responses
fail to address these critical dimensions of climate risk; that climate change adaptation can itself put some of these important elements of social life at risk; and that these elements may in turn be
enablers or barriers to adaptation.
Cultural dimensions of climate change impacts
W. Neil Adger1
*, Jon Barnett2
, Katrina Brown3
, Nadine Marshall4 and Karen O’Brien5
Society’s response to every dimension of global climate change is mediated by culture. We analyse new research across the
social sciences to show that climate change threatens cultural dimensions of lives and livelihoods that include the material and
lived aspects of culture, identity, community cohesion and sense of place. We find, furthermore, that there are important cultural dimensions to how societies respond and adapt to climate-related risks. We demonstrate how culture mediates changes
in the environment and changes in societies, and we elucidate shortcomings in contemporary adaptation policy.
Climate change and cultural change
Culture is defined here as the symbols that express meaning,
including beliefs, rituals, art and stories that create collective outlooks and behaviours, and from which strategies to respond to
problems are devised and implemented5,6. It has both non-material
and material aspects. Culture, in the way we examine it here, is
often closely tied to places (physical spaces that are given meaning
by people), even as both have become increasingly transnationalized through processes of globalization7–9.Thus, as culture and community are frequently rooted in place—from metropolitan areas
through to marginal rural settlements—climate change impacts in
these places may also change cultures and communities, often in
ways that people find undesirable and perceive as loss10.
Analyses of culture and place span disciplines from anthropology to geography and human ecology, and use a range of theories
and methods. Cultural geographers, for example, suggest that production of culture is tied up with the construction of landscapes that
“comprise all the physical, biological and cultural phenomena interacting in a region, exhibiting historical depth in the shape of the
residues of antecedent landscapes”11. Alternatively, human ecology
analyses social–ecological systems to discern interactions between
social practices, values and change in the natural world12. In most
cases, the methods for studying culture tend to be qualitative, frequently including ethnography and participant observation, and
data from these methods do not sit comfortably with the quantitative approaches prevalent in other social and natural science on climate change. This is one reason why cultural aspects have not been
well integrated into climate change analyses and policies.
The expected impacts of climate change will affect cultures in
diverse ways (see Table 1). The risks are manifest globally: few cultures will escape the influences of climate change in these coming
decades whether in cities in the developed world or in resourcedependent subsistence economies (Box 1 documents contemporary challenges on one Pacific island state). Cultural change is not
a phenomenon of marginal societies: indeed post-materialist values
in themselves are argued by some analyses to be those values most
challenged by environmental change13.
The changes that arise from climate change are only deemed
negative within a given cultural frame of reference, making it
difficult to predict which of the changes arising from climate
Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, Amory Building, Rennes Drive, Exeter, EX4 4RJ, UK. 2
of Land and Environment, University of Melbourne, 221 Bouverie Street, Parkville, Victoria 3010, Australia. 3
Environment and Sustainability Institute,
University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus, Penryn, TR10 9EZ, UK. 4CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences and Climate Adaptation Flagship, ATSIP Building, James Cook
University, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia. 5
Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo, Postbox 1096, Blindern, 0317
Oslo, Norway. *e-mail: N.Adger@exeter.ac.uk
PUBLISHED ONLINE: 11 NOVEMBER 2012 | DOI: 10.1038/NCLIMATE1666
© 2013 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved
NATURE CLIMATE CHANGE | VOL 3 | FEBRUARY 2013 | www.nature.com/natureclimatechange 113
change will lead to losses of cultural assets that communities value.
But some consequences are less ambiguous. The loss of access to
places as a result of coastal inundation, for example, or even as a
consequence of climate change adaptation or mitigation policies,
will have clear impacts on culture. When people are displaced from
places that they value, there is strong evidence that their cultures
are diminished, and in many cases endangered. There are often no
effective substitutions for, or adequate compensation for, lost sites
The importance of these impacts is closely correlated with the
level of attachment that individuals experience around their settlement or place. Attachment to place is a concept that describes the
level of connection that individuals have with the people and environments in which they live16–18. The concept, well established within
sociology and geography, describes the identity created around a
settlement or place, the sense of pride associated with belonging to
a village, town or city, and the friendships and networks that exist
within them19,20. It contributes to individual and community wellbeing and quality of life, and is widely used as an element in assessing community sustainability.
Place attachment is thus emerging as an important factor for climate adaptation in regions where existing livelihoods are unlikely
to be maintained as the impacts of climate change are increasingly
manifest21–23. Attachment to a place may be closely linked to a sense
of belonging to a community8
. Individuals with a strong attachment
to their community are often unwilling to migrate to maintain their
income levels because they are reluctant to leave behind their social
and emotional support groups and adapt to a new community24.
Box 2 on migration and resettlement shows that attachment to place
is a critical factor in decisions about migration. Indeed, as has been
recently argued in this journal, for its impacts on communities and
cultures, wholesale resettlement of populations may often be maladaptive, and should be a strategy of last resort25.
Individuals with a high level of place attachment can be distressed at the prospect of moving from their home communities.
There is also strong evidence to suggest that control over whether
and how change in location occurs is important for psychological
and emotional well-being. Social scientists have explored the phenomenon of place attachment in various ways26–28, but two are especially pertinent in the context of climate adaptation. First, continuity
of place can be an important component in maintaining or reinforcing identity29. Discontinuing identity is associated with grief and
strong social impacts related to loss30,31. Second, although migrating to new places to secure income can positively contribute to the
adaptation process through opening new economic opportunities,
migration can also diminish the benefits by increasing financial and
emotional stress and weakening social structures in both source and
Culture affects adaptive pathways
Insights into the cultural dimensions of climate change challenge
many of the fundamental assumptions that have guided research on
climate change adaptation. Most attempts to integrate adaptation
into models of climate change assume simple cause-and-effect relationships between environmental risks and social responses. Such
responses seldom appear in practice. In fact, impact models generally fail to explain why different groups exposed to the same sets of
changes display vastly different responses. For example, in Burkina
Faso different groups of pastoralists have responded to recurrent
drought in different ways, with the Fulbe struggling to find alternative income streams, whereas their former slaves—the Rimaiibe
people—have diversified their livelihoods through more extensive
use of labour migration33. Similar differentiation is demonstrated
in fishing communities in India, where responses are bounded by
cultural practices within different ethnic groups34. Historically, too,
pre-modern cultures were able to adapt to environmental changes
with varying degrees of success: for example, drought seems to have
been a factor in the collapse of some civilizations, whereas others
were able to persist35.
Cultural perspectives help to explain differences in responses
across populations to the same environmental risks. Recent research
shows that information about climate change does not connect with
all cultures and worldviews in the same way. Douglas and Wildavsky2
argue that societies with shared values and beliefs produce their
own selective view of the natural environment, which influences
how they interpret and respond to risk. Climate change narratives
often interact with other beliefs to motivate responses, which in
some cases may not be consistent with the ‘rational’ responses advocated by institutions promoting adaptation36. For example, people in
atoll islands in the South Pacific merge scientific information about
climate change with pre-existing narratives about cultural decline in
ways that discourage adaptation37,38.
Although local knowledge and practices can be effective for
progressively adapting to climate change, they may have limited utility when cultures are confronted with rapid or nonlinear changes.
For example, although archaeological records suggest that the
Pueblo Indian peoples were able to use a mix of strategies to adapt
to drought, as drought became more prolonged and intense such
Table 1 | Examples of climate effects and possible cultural and representational impacts.
Projected biological and
physical impacts Cultural impacts
Increased extent of areas affected
Pastoralism as a cultural phenomenon under threat. Erosion of social structures as populations exit from herding74,75.
Changes to availability or range of
fish stocks and coral reefs
Loss of fish stocks leads to loss of symbolic value and cultural practices attached to particular species. An example is
the ‘place spirits’ in sharks, rays and dolphins in Melanesia76. Cultural practices may not be adaptable to changes in fish
Decreased snow and ice cover
Hunters and fishers forced to switch target fishing and hunting species and losing traditional knowledge and cultural
identity such as traditional housing77.
Retreat and loss of snow cover
and glaciers at high altitudes
Loss of winter culture and recreation and the place of snow in ritual and sense of place; observed in Europe, North America
In high latitudes pastoralist and other cultures such as the Quechua-speaking villagers in southern Peru sense dislocation
from the natural world with retreat of the Quelccaya ice cap80.
Ecosystem disturbance and plant
and animal species at risk from
localized or global extinction
Loss of iconic and culturally significant habitats such as those of the uplands of England associated with cultural
Changes to phenology and seasons in England leading to dislocation from place81.
Loss of experienced weather patterns such as ‘soft rain’ in Ireland82.
Threats to global icons such as snow cover on Kilimanjaro83.
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strategies became less effective, leading to famine, social conflicts
and increased migration39. For the St’át’imc people in British
Columbia, changes in the timing, abundance and quality of sockeye
salmon are so great that despite traditional knowledge, there seems
to be no effective adaptation to manage the effects of these changes
on St’át’imc culture40. For the Inuit in Nunavut, changes in the ability to predict the weather have not only affected hunting and travel
but have also had emotional, cultural and spiritual consequences41.
Place attachment may also shape adaptive responses. For example, Mishra and colleagues42 observe that people with high levels of
place attachment were more likely to be motivated to prepare for
climate change events such as flooding because of their social and
economic investments within their region. Several other researchers
have also suggested that attachment to place is more likely to result
in pro-environmental behaviour43–45. These observations suggest
that place attachment may inspire citizens to develop or participate
in climate adaptation planning processes46.
Culture also shapes values, and there is a considerable body of
research in the social sciences and humanities that considers how
values are related to culture, cognition and economic factors47. This
body of knowledge is reflected in recent climate change research
that examines the relationship between values and adaptation
choices48,49. The emerging literature shows that differences in values
may create tensions or discrepancies between adaptations that are
deemed rational and effective by governments and planners, and
those that are considered important to and desirable by individuals
and communities. In climate change adaptation, as in development
more generally, culture and politics interact to determine who has
voice, whose values count and what information is legitimate50.
To understand adaptation as a social process requires increased
attention to the meaning of climate change, including to the
opportunities created, and the ways it can influence community
and identity. Climate change can directly challenge traditional or
established identities. Norgaard51, for example, considers how the
socially constructed national identity of Norwegians is increasingly
in contradiction to political economic relations, leading to so-called
implicatory denial of climate change (rejection of the psychological,
political or moral implications of information). Climate change is
often portrayed as a global-scale problem: it often does not resonate with the values associated with many traditional, ethnocentric
worldviews, and may contribute to antagonism or cognitive dissonance. Yet in revealing linkages and connections that are not readily
perceived or visible, climate change can also promote humanist values that counter exclusive and conformist values. Changes in individual and collective identities can open up possibilities for forming
symbolic identities with distant others and ‘elective’ communities
and facilitate new forms of collective action.
Where culture itself is able to change during times of flux—for
example by developing new narratives, alternative meanings or
strategies to lead meaningful lives—then it can serve as an important enabler of change. Indeed, culture is dynamic, and climate
change may prompt beneficial as well as negative changes. In effect,
current framing of cultural dimensions of climate change demonstrates apparently paradoxical insights. First there is considerable
evidence that climate change poses risks and threats to values and
Niue is a Polynesian island with a population of 1,500. Climate
change poses a considerable risk to aspects of Niuean culture
that Niueans themselves value. The island is exposed to cyclones:
Heta in 2004 caused damage to resources that sustain material
culture, including to stocks of the moota (Dysoxylum forsteri)
tree used to make the distinctive outrigger canoes, an important
symbol of Niuean culture. Attempts to sustain Niuean culture
have focused on canoe building and traditional fishing practices
from these canoes. Cyclone Heta also damaged culturally significant artefacts, including the Niue national museum and the
Huanaki cultural centre, which was the central venue to meet
and take part in traditional dances, singing and narration of
Niue has also suffered from significant population decline
since 1971. Of all present Niueans born in Niue, about 5,500
live in New Zealand—more than three times the number of the
current resident population. Niueans living in Niue therefore
perceive themselves as trustees of Niue’s ‘Taoga’—their precious
possessions, including its resources, customs and traditions,
language, and arts and crafts. Niueans perceive their Taoga as
how they interact with the land and sea, and with each other.
For example, harvesting talo and fish ritualizes Niuean belonging to the land and seas: these foods are the material products of
cultural practice. As climate change undermines yields of these
resources it simultaneously undermines the sustainability of
Finally, Niueans are well aware of climate change and the
risks it is said to pose to their lives and livelihoods. Cyclone Heta
was immediately understood as being a harbinger of things to
come. Thus Niueans receive information about climate change
and interpret it in terms of their existing concerns: cyclones and
droughts, and population decline. Knowledge about climate has
therefore subtly changed Niueans’ confidence in the sustainability of their island and culture, making their island home seem
less safe, and the future less secure89.
Box 1 | Culture and climate change in a small island state.
An emerging focus on migration as a rational response to climate
change impacts90 with evidence shows that:
(1) Migration is a beneficial strategy for spreading risk in
sensitive economic sectors and regions;
(2) Migration is limited to those with threshold levels of economic resources and human capital, and hence immobility
is an important dimension of the problem91;
(3) Planned resettlement is likely in the future both in response
to climate risks and also as a by-product of energy investments and land-use changes for mitigating climate change92.
Identity is an important dimension of migration decisions,
including in choice of destination for migrants, and in the
adaptation strategies of migrants in these destination regions
Specific work on identity and migration to environmental
(1) Those at risk almost always exhibit and state their desire not
to relocate, expressed as being for cultural reasons93;
(2) Those being resettled often resist attempts by authorities to
(3) In some circumstances the effects of population decline on
communities from which migrants move can undermine
community cohesion, cultural continuity and adaptive
capacity, although diaspora links are often critical mediating influences15,94,95;
(4) Migrants themselves often move to areas at risk; loss of
their localized environmental knowledge makes them
more vulnerable to environmental risks in new localities96.
Yet much of the evidence so far accumulated has underemphasized the role of place and identity in individuals’ decisions
to adapt in one place or relocate.
Box 2 | Identity and attachment in migration and resettlement
decisions in response to climate risks.
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cultural expressions that matter to individuals and communities,
and that their capacity to adapt will be profoundly shaped by these
risks. Second, there is increasing recognition that the idea of climate change, whether as a process or phenomenon, may itself be
influencing cultural values, individual and collective identities and
notions of community.
Implications for policy and science
These new insights into how culture interacts with climate-related
risks could radically alter understanding of social responses to
climate change, and affect how adaptation policies are designed.
Most areas of public policy seek to promote societal goals through
efficient policy mechanisms. Government action seeks to allocate
resources efficiently to affect a desirable distribution in areas where
autonomous actions and markets fail to do so. Given imperfect
information on risks, much government action has been focused
on reducing uncertainty, increasing information and protecting
productive assets52, for example by providing climate risk information and reducing risk through regulation and planning53,54. Yet as
Douglas and Wildavsky note2
, responses based on assessments of
physical risks and subjectively biased individual perceptions of risk
are likely to fail without a cultural understanding of risk.
There is emerging evidence that current policies, at least for
specific cases, partly by overlooking cultural dimensions, lead to
maladaptive outcomes27,55–57. Protecting property through hard
sea defences, for example, reduces public goods such as beaches.
Similarly, transferring large amounts of water across river basins for
economic reasons comes at the cost of place-specific cultural values
of water and the integrity of small communities. Moving people to
maintain their livelihoods comes at the cost of community cohesion
and sense of place, and even switching to new agricultural practices
to sustain production comes at the cost of the cultural values of food
and its production.
Adaptation strategies can thus potentially undermine the resilience of communities and cultures, particularly when they promote
private interests at the expense of public goods such as cultural
heritage or community cohesion58. Adger and colleagues59 reviewed
a range of responses to climate change and showed how some damage resilience. This was related to a narrow framing of the problem
and lack of consideration of interaction between climate change and
other stressors; the institutions involved in responses; and a failure
to recognize dynamic feedbacks.
Cultural factors shape how people support adaptation interventions, and their motivation to respond to them. The attachment that
people have to their community may be an important predictor of
how they might adapt and support strategies designed at higher
levels. For example, people who value the stability associated with
remaining in the one community22,60 may experience deterioration
in quality of life if they are forced to relocate as an adaptation to
climate impacts22. Consequently, adaptation strategies that directly
affect attachment to place may not be supported, and different strategies that allow people to remain in their current place are more
likely to be successful. However, people who remain within their
chosen place regardless of the tenability of the location are likely
also to become ‘losers’ in the adaptation process.
Sometimes, of course, societies do invest in policies to support
actions for powerful cultural reasons. An example is drought policy
in Australia, where it has long been the case that government subsidies to farms have implicitly sought to sustain rural communities61,
but were arguably maladaptive given climatic changes increased the
incidence of drought. Hurlimann and Dolnicar demonstrate that
such policies were popular in the recipient communities and any
policy change to promote adaptation through relocation and migration would be resisted by populations surveyed across Australian
So how could policy incorporate culture more explicitly? This
would first require recognizing the explanatory power and the limitations of the methods of inquiry into culture. Ethnography is a
primary method of cultural inquiry based on the immersion of the
researcher in places. Cultural inquiry is also undertaken collaboratively with multiple stakeholders to understand how global processes (from emerging carbon markets to heat waves in cities) are
articulated in local contexts63. These methods focus on issues such
as perceptions of change; valuation and meaning of change; knowledge of climate, weather and risks; and documented responses in
behaviour and practice64,65. Other methods of participant observation, narrative and historical analyses provide rich, context-specific
qualitative data. Mental models approaches, such as companion
modelling or agent-based modelling, explore knowledge systems
and often aim to integrate traditional and scientific perspectives on
change or to specifically support the design of adaptive management strategies.
Even armed with robust knowledge of cultural change, however, there is no simple blueprint for such action, as it is difficult in
practice to incorporate multiple and marginalized voices and plural values into robust and replicable decision-making. Much of the
vigorous promotion of community-based adaptation suggests that
local-scale decision-making is more likely to promote plural and
Table 2 | Examples of large-scale climate and other assessments and their attempts to incorporate cultural dimensions.
Assessments Objectives How they assessed cultural dimensions
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005)84 Global and subregional
assessment of changes in
ecosystems and links to
Assessment of cultural services (chapter in the report) through review of
published science and case studies; focus on knowledge systems, spiritual
values, aesthetics and art.
Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (2005)85 Regional scientific assessment
of climate change impacts
Observations of environmental and climate change by indigenous peoples
documented using case studies based on existing projects (chapter in the
report). Other scientific findings subjected to ‘community review’.
National Ecosystem Assessment—United
National assessment of
ecosystems and contributions
Chapter on assessment of cultural services using economic valuation,
deliberative evaluation and applying Human Scale Development Matrix to
link ecosystems and changes to subjective and objective well-being.
Climate Witness (on-going)87 Collating individual
observations and experiences
of change to publicize impacts
and campaign for policies to
address climate change
Structured interviews and posting of videos and photos on website used to
build up an international database of stories of the meaning and experience
of changing weather and resources.
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cultural values and that it incorporates culture by building on local
social norms and effecting change from within66. But communitybased adaptation faces the challenges that some cultural expression “may be deeply and narrowly defined and thereby resistant
Good practice in public participation in adaptation decisionmaking usually includes notions of proportionality, inclusiveness
and transparency68. Yet dealing with the cultural dimensions of
climate change impacts is about more than an “illusion of inclusion”69, given that community-led processes are constrained by
the same focus on material assets and interests as politics at other
scales. Nicholson-Cole and colleagues have shown, consistent with
findings across the United Kingdom and elsewhere70,71, that the perception of loss of control and lack of inclusion in the process of decision-making are the greatest barriers to legitimate incorporation of
plural values. Rather, incorporating cultural dimensions requires
recognizing diverse perspectives and promoting decision-making
at appropriate and often multiple, scales.
Cultural dimensions highlighted here are rarely and only partially
included in conventional assessments of climate change impacts and
adaptation. Participatory monitoring of change and ‘citizen science’
approaches use lay knowledge and observations to gather data72,73,
but are limited in the extent to which they incorporate cultural perspectives and values. The IPCC assessments, for example, restrict
themselves to peer-reviewed science. Table 2 shows how various
international assessments attempt to include cultural factors: different methods used at different scales, ranging from primarily reliance on published science papers, perhaps subject to community
review (in the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment), to attempts to
encompass more plural cultural values (in the National Ecosystem
Assessment), to more open narrative ‘story-telling’ approaches to
documenting multi-faceted change (Climate Witness). Thus these
initiatives seek to provide new platforms and new ways to engage
with cultural dimensions of environmental change.
We highlight here the frontiers of research on culture and climate change including the potential threats to cultural assets and
the role of culture in adaptation. Culture and identity are difficult to incorporate into public policy: losses of public goods such
as community and place are not easily compensated or swayed
by arguments over economically rational adjustments to risk.
Acknowledging the importance of cultural factors is, however,
an important first step. The challenge remains to address cultural
dimensions, perhaps through appropriate-scale individual and
community involvement in determining the goals of adaptation
policies and shaping their means of implementation. This will be
painstaking work; the scales of analysis and engagement will be
smaller, with multiple policy communities, pathways and negotiations. Yet if the cultural dimensions of climate change are ignored,
it is likely that both adaptation and mitigation responses will fail to
be effective because they simply do not connect with what matters
to individuals and communities.
Received 3 January 2012; accepted 25 July 2012; published online
11 November 2012
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Collaboration for this research was supported by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change
Research, UK. J.B. was supported by Australian Research Council project DP0556977
and K.B. was supported through a Professorial Fellowship from UK Economic and Social
Research Council (grant RES-051-27-0263).
W.N.A. and K.B. formulated and planned the paper. All authors undertook the analysis
and interpretation and wrote the paper.
The authors declare no competing financial interests. Correspondence and requests for
materials should be addressed to W.N.A.
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