COP 27: reinforcing the role of indigenous guardians in the Solomon Islands

Sharm El-Sheikh

At COP 27, the Solomons Islands through a “Tok Stori on Pacific as Indigenous guardians of global climate and biodiversity commons” highlighted the work of the government and Nia Tero Foundation in engaging indigenous people as key actors in the preservation of biodiversity and natural resources. This event showed how halting the global environmental crisis is crucial to protecting indigenous communities' way of life.

Cross-cultural recognition and appreciation of traditional knowledge is a crucial challenge at COP 27. In the Solomon Islands, indigenous people are fully included in the decision-making process. The country’s work concerning indigenous peoples and climate change aims to generate a regional recognition of the contribution that traditional knowledge and practice can make in building adaptation measures.
 

  • Promoting indigenous knowledge in marine spatial planning  

The conception of the land for indigenous people includes the sea. The system of governance in UNFCCC COP focuses on land. However, in a country where the ocean accounts for 98%, the Solomon Islands consider their atolls as large islands where coral reefs should be fully integrated into spatial planning. 

“This COP 27 is about implementation. We developed our national development strategy for 2016 – 2025 to enhance sustainable development and economic growth in our islands. To move forward with implementation, we decided to explore ways and means to reinforce our master plan.  In our case, it starts with recognising the role of indigenous knowledge.” says  Rexson Ramofafia, from the Solomon Islands Ministry of National Planning and Development Coordination. 

In this framework, the Solomons Islands worked on a Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) strategy to guide a legal framework or ocean law to oversee the governance and management of its ocean space. In 2018, the national steering committee endorsed the identified priorities for integrated ocean governance based on a national and regional consultations.

“We started our marine spatial planning relying on community surveys and interviews. However, we quickly understood that indigenous knowledge and input were missing. We are now delaying our MSP release until we receive all information needed from indigenous communities and planning.” continues Ramofafia.

 

  • Including indigenous people benefits forests management  

In the Solomons, the forestry sector currently provides more than half of GDP and is a significant proportion of export earnings. It traditionally played an essential role in the livelihoods of rural Solomon Islanders as forests are a source of food, building materials and traditional medicines for the people.

"In terms of forestry management, the Solomon Islands historically took into consideration indigenous knowledge. We acknowledge that our people inherit their resources from ancestors beginning in ancient times. Therefore a sustainable economy should be based on restoration and not deforestation. We are increasing communities and indigenous people's capacity withtraining and raising awareness of sustainable management. We ensure that development action benefits indigenous people." says Dickson Mua, Minister of Forestry and Research. 

In the Integrated Forest Management (2021) report, traditional knowledge has been emphasized as essential for addressing many issues, from an environmental sustainability and land management standpoint to climate change. It also mentions that harnessing indigenous knowledge is critical to making approaches more relevant and acceptable to local people across all aspects of project work.

 

  • Deploying indigenous knowledge with young people in communities 

The Solomons islands are a young nation: 70% of its population is below 35 years old. As indigenous knowledge and pedagogy improve the education and climate change awareness of young people, local non-profit organisations are working with communities in the province of Malaita to enhance traditional knowledge. 

“At school, we teach children to cherish and share the wisdom of past generations. We are doing replantation with kids. Not only to plant a tree but to understand the story of that tree. What does it mean for your community? We want to marry this old wisdom with the new knowledge and young people to be the drivers in the machine,” explains Edgar Pollard, Solomon Islands ecologist.

“I believe that the inclusion of knowledge and people in the UNFCCC global process should not be side actors. This is where the Pacific region can play a significant role. We have one of the largest percentage of indigenous people: we need to bring indigenous knowledge into every conversation addressing climate change.” Melchior Solomons Melchior Mataki, Minister of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management and Meteorology National
 

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