Indigenous Peoples And Their Communities

©  United Nations Photo/John Isaac

UNEP recognizes the importance of Indigenous Peoples’ participation as well as the valuable inputs that these holders of traditional knowledge – gained through trans-generational experiences, observations and transmission - can contribute to sustainable ecosystem management and development.

On the other hand, their close relationship and dependency on functioning ecosystems have made many Indigenous Peoples extremely vulnerable to changes and damages in the environment. Logging, mining activities, pollution and climate change all pose increasing threats to indigenous livelihoods and their survival.

I. UNEP’s Engagement with Indigenous Peoples

1. UNEP’s Indigenous Peoples Focal Point

Recognizing the specific importance of Indigenous Peoples and their communities for UNEP, UNEP has a dedicated part-time Focal Point on indigenous issues since 2004. The position is located within UNEP’s Major Groups and Stakeholder Branch. The Focal Point is the main liaison officer for Indigenous Peoples and any related activities on indigenous issues and with Indigenous Peoples within UNEP. Indigenous Peoples can contact the Focal Point at any time regarding UNEP’s work programmes, project activities, participation in conferences, collaboration to workshops and meetings as well as the accreditation of Indigenous Peoples organisations and networks to the UNEA of UNEP. Please write to civil.society(at) and add in the subject line: Indigenous Peoples focal point.

UNEP recognizes Indigenous Peoples’ rights, risks, responsibilities, contributions and challenges in caring for the environment in furtherance of UNEP’s over-all mission to promote ecosystems health and human well-being. UNEPs engagement with Indigenous Peoples is supported by a Policy Guidance ( available in English , French, Spanish) that was approved by UNEP’s Executive Director in November 2012 to guide UNEP’s work by supporting staff to understand the synergies and linkages between Indigenous Peoples and the environment, informing decisions in policy development and implementation as well as inspiring potential partnerships.

UNEP recognizes – in line with “The Future We Want” and the UNDRIP ‐ the importance of Indigenous Peoples’ participation at all levels of policy and programme development and implementation stage in order to achieve sustainable development in a holistic and integrated manner. UNEP also recognizes that all initiatives directly affecting Indigenous Peoples require their effective participation in decision-making, planning and implementation, and consent to ensure that such initiatives are in line with their rights, cultures, visions and priorities.

Within the UN system, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), an advisory body to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) established in 2002, is the main and central forum to discuss indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights. The Inter-Agency Support Group (IASG) on Indigenous Issues was established to support and promote the mandate of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues within the United Nations system. UNEP, represented by its IP Focal Point and other key staff of the organization, is an active participant and contributor to the UNPFII. Read UNEP’s Reports to the 14th Session, 13th Session and 12th Session of the UNPFII.

The General Assembly, in its resolution 65/198 of 21 December 2010, decided to organize a high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly, to be known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP), which was held on 22-23 September 2014. The meeting was an opportunity to share perspectives and best practices on the realization of the rights of Indigenous Peoples, including pursuing the objectives of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous People’s Issues supported the preparation of the WCIP with thematic papers on various topics including employment and social protection, lands territories and resources, traditional knowledge and violence against indigenous women and girls, among others. The World Conference resulted in a concise, action-oriented outcome document prepared on the basis of inclusive and open informal consultations with Member States and Indigenous Peoples. The UN system, with the support of the IASG and the UNPFII is now working towards the implementation of the outcome document and will present its proposals through the SG “…to the General Assembly at its seventieth session on the implementation of the present outcome document, and to submit at the same session, through the Economic and Social Council, recommendations regarding how to use, modify and improve existing United Nations mechanisms to achieve the ends of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, ways to enhance a coherent, system-wide approach to achieving the ends of the Declaration and specific proposals to enable the participation of Indigenous Peoples’ representatives and institutions, building on his report on ways and means of promoting participation at the United Nations of Indigenous Peoples’ representatives on the issues affecting them.”

II. UNEP’s Events, Programmes and Initiatives with Indigenous Peoples and Their Communities

A co-organised side event was held on September 23, 2014, during the High Plenary meeting of the sixty-ninth session of the General Assembly, to be known as the “World Conference on Indigenous Peoples”.

The side-event “Indigenous Peoples’ Rights to Lands, Territories and Resources” had a specific focus in the contributions and rights of Indigenous Peoples that are recognised in a series of international instruments, including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), ILO Convention No. 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGTs) as well as the opportunities that Pastoralism can offer in a green economy context as suggested by UNEP and IUCN in a forthcoming study.

Side Event held on May 21, 2014 during the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, 13th Session.

This side event was held on 21 May 2014 by UNEP with following partners: International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), World Alliance of Mobile Indigenous Peoples (WAMIP), International Land Coalition (ILC), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Tebtebba. The side event examined facts, myths and emerging issues impacting pastoralists worldwide. 

A panel of speakers representing indigenous pastoralists, governments and UN bodies explored sustainable pastoralism solutions that could help define appropriate targets or indicators for the sustainable development goals. Please find the side event report here. Please find here the background note on Sustainable Pastoralism and the Post 2015 Agenda. Opportunities and barriers to pastoralism for global food production and environmental stewardship.

3. Pastoralism and the Green Economy:

IUCN and UNEP have jointly prepared a publication entitled “Pastoralism and the Green Economy: a natural nexus?” which will be launched during Fourth special session of the Committee on Science and Technology and UNCCD 3rd scientific conference in Mexico, March 2015. The study focuses on pastoralism’s current and future potential for securing sustainable management and green economy outcomes from the world’s rangelands. It synthesizes existing evidence and uses practical examples from mobile pastoralism in Europe, Latin America, North America, Asia, Australia and Africa. The report shows the system’s inherent characteristics for adaptive sustainability and some of the key opportunities and challenges for promoting development in rangelands. Finally, the study identifies the key enabling conditions required for pastoralism to deliver on its potential role in a Green Economy. The study is published in English, French and Spanish and a briefing note is available in all 6 official UN languages. Please visit IUCN's website on the World Initiative on Sustainable Pastoralism for those documents:

4. Grid Arendal and Indigenous Peoples

GRID-Arendal is a centre collaborating with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Established in 1989 by the Government of Norway as a Norwegian Foundation, its mission is to communicate environmental information to policy-makers and facilitate environmental decision-making for change. It is based in Arendal, Norway and has an office in Ottawa, Canada. Read more...

UNEP/GRID-Arendal’s Polar Programme advocates for the sustainable development of the Arctic through building knowledge and awareness for sound decision-making, participating in international stakeholder processes, and further developing the capacity of Arctic peoples.

Grid Arendal has several activities dedicated to indigenous peoples of the north and the Arctic:

Nomadic Herders: enhancing the resilience of pastoral ecosystems and livelihoods;

Many Strong Voices (MSV)

UNEP has been working with partners to elaborate on the new concept of ‘community protocols’, which encompass a broad range of protocols, procedures, rules and practices, both written and unwritten, developed by indigenous and local communities (ILC) in relation to their territories, natural resources, traditional knowledge, environment and other aspects of life. UNEP and Environmental Defenders Office developed a guide for policy makers: Community Protocols for Environmental Sustainability: A Guide for Policymakers. Community protocols share some common themes or underlying principles which guide their documentation, development and use. These principles draw on some of the values, practices and procedures of ILCs, which are reflected in their community protocols. These common underlying principles may be useful in the documentation and development of new community protocols. They may also be useful for the development of guiding principles in policy areas relevant to community protocols, including, biodiversity conservation and sustainable use, natural resource management, and planning and development.

6. Participation of Indigenous Peoples in UNEP Governance

UNEP recognizes the importance of participation of Indigenous Peoples in the organisation’s governance and decision-making. This is why UNEP engages with iIndigenous groups by giving them a role to voice their perspectives as early as possible in policy-making and decision-making processes. This is largely done through accredited representatives of the Indigenous Peoples Major Group. Indigenous Peoples are also represented in UNEP’s Major Groups Facilitating Committee.


The Indigenous Peoples Policy Guidance of UNEP is an important addition and supplements the recently developed UNEP Environmental, Social and Economic Sustainability (ESES) Framework which includes a specific Indigenous Peoples Safeguard Standard. The ESES Framework is UNEP’s response to the call by member states at the Rio+20 Conference for strengthening UNEP. It is compliant with the requirements of “A Framework for Advancing Environmental and Social Sustainability in the United Nations System (2012),” prepared by the Environmental Management Group (EMG), and the ’Environmental and Social Safeguards’ and ’Gender’ Policies of the Global Environment Facility (GEF). This Framework sets minimum sustainability standards for UNEP and its implementing/executing partners, and enables UNEP to anticipate and manage emerging environmental, social and economic issues. It promotes an integrated approach, combining environmental, social and economic sustainability. The Safeguard Standard 5: Indigenous Peoples has as main purpose to ensure that UNEP projects respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples and take into account Indigenous Peoples’ views, needs and rights and to avoid any harm and promote opportunities to improve their livelihoods.
UNEP is working on the official operationalization of the safeguard standards in UNEP interventions.

The upcoming GEO-6, expecting to be launched in mid-2017, will build upon regional assessment processes and create a comprehensive picture of the environmental factors contributing to human well-being, accompanied by an analysis of policies leading to greater attainment of global environmental objectives and goals. GEO is a consultative and participatory process that builds capacity for conducting integrated environmental assessments and reporting on the state, trends and outlooks of the environment. GEO is also a series of products that informs environmental decision-making and aims to facilitate the interaction between science and policy. 

GEO-6 will be the start of a living process. It will provide the first integrative baseline in light of global megatrends supported by open access to data, with due consideration given to gender, indigenous knowledge and cultural dimensions. The assessment will lay the foundation for continued socio-environmental assessments across relevant scales, with a thematic as well as an integrated focus, enabling and informing societal transitions and the tracking of SDG targets and goals as well as previously agreed internationally environmental goals. The enhanced policy analysis in GEO-6 will be aimed at assisting member states to position themselves on the most effective pathways for transitions towards a sustainable future.

The rigorous assessment process aims to make GEO products scientifically credible and policy relevant - providing information to support environmental management and policy development. GEO also supports multi-stakeholder networking and intra and inter-regional cooperation to identify and assess key priority environmental issues at the regional levels. A world-wide network of Collaborating Centre partners; a transparent nomination process that allows governments and other stakeholders to nominate experts to the process; advisory groups to provide guidance on scientific and policy issues; and a comprehensive peer review processes are some of the integral elements of GEO.

The first Global Intergovernmental Multi-stakeholder Consultation on GEO 6 (the sixth Global Environmental Outlook), held in Berlin (21-23 October 2014) agreed that the GEO 6 analysis should draw on diverse knowledge systems, including by using accepted guidelines for the use of peer reviewed scientific literature, grey literature, data and indigenous and local knowledge.

Please visit the GEO Community of Practice on UNEP Live website.

was adopted at Rio+20 and promotes to accelerate the shift towards sustainable consumption and production all over the world. Participation of Indigenous Peoples and other stakeholders in the development of the common template for the programmes will be ensured. For more information on how Indigenous Peoples in particular can engage in this process contact: 10yfp(at)

is designed to use market and financial incentives in order to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases from deforestation and forest degradation. UN-REDD has a specific focus on Indigenous Peoples and offers their representatives four seats in its Policy Board. Moreover, thy can engage with the Independent Advisory Group on Forests, Rights and Climate Change and voice out their opinions on specific projects. Free, prior and informed consent has been enshrined in specific guidelines. More information on how indigenous peoples can participate in UN-REDD and how FPIC is uphold can be found on the homepage

III. Tools and Resources

The Indigenous Peoples’ and Community Conserved Territories and Areas (ICCAs) and participating Iindigenous Peoples have developed an interactive Registry for ICCAs worldwide. Through building a knowledge base this project aims at putting Indigenous Peoples and their territories on the global map, thus leading to the acknowledgement of indigenous ways of conservation and their stronger participation in policy discussions about the same. Additional information can be obtained from– iccaregistry(at) Please see the Toolkit to Support Conservation by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.

IV. Accredited Organizations

Find here a list of all Indigenous Peoples' organizations accredited with the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) of UNEP.