Climate change and Indigenous Health Promotion (2019)

Citation: Jones R. Climate change and Indigenous Health Promotion. Global Health Promotion. 2019;26(3_suppl):73-81. doi:10.1177/1757975919829713 (open access)

Relevant to: 

Public health Dietitians-Nutritionists working in any type of health promotion. While based on the perspectives of the Māori (the Indigenous people of Aotearoa/New Zealand), the ideas are relevant to all working in climate action. 


This commentary type article uses a Māori perspective to examine the relationships between climate change and Indigenous health, and proposes implications for health promotion.  

Bottom line for nutrition practice: 

Indigenous people of the world are disproportionally impacted as a result of climate change. Climate action – through mitigation and adaptation – may also harm Indigenous peoples and erode their rights. Western views of climate change have framed the issue and therefore are also used to generate solutions. Indigenous knowledges and values, that see humans as not separate from the natural world and not superior to other life forms, have been excluded. 

The author poses that the views, values and systems that are the foundation of colonialization of Indigenous peoples are also at the root of environmental changes that threaten ecosystems. He suggests that health promotion be grounded in an understanding of how colonialization may worsen climate related impacts on Indigenous health. They further pose that land must be recognized as a key determinant of Indigenous health due to the many connections between land and human well-being. 


Climate change poses a serious threat to the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples around the world. Despite living in diverse contexts, Indigenous peoples face a number of common challenges. Disproportionate threats from climate change exist due to a range of factors including unique relationships with the natural environment, socioeconomic deprivation, a greater existing burden of disease, poorer access to and quality of health care, and political marginalization. Responses to climate change at global, national, and local levels also threaten Indigenous people’s rights.

While climate action presents many opportunities to improve health and reduce inequities, there is also significant potential for climate mitigation and adaptation policies to inflict harm on Indigenous peoples. An important aspect of this is the impact on traditional lands, which are acknowledged as a fundamental determinant of Indigenous health and well-being. This article seeks to elucidate the relationships between climate change and Indigenous health and to inform health promotion solutions to achieve climate justice for Indigenous peoples.

The underpinning analysis is founded on a Kaupapa Māori positioning, which seeks transformative change and involves critiquing Western knowledges and structures that undermine Indigenous rights. A central theme is that anthropogenic climate change is intimately connected to the ideologies, systems and practices of colonialism, and that the impacts on Indigenous peoples can be conceptualized as an intensification of the process of colonization. It is not possible to understand and address climate-related health impacts for Indigenous peoples without examining this broader context of colonial oppression, marginalization and dispossession.

The challenge for health promotion is to engage in a process of decolonization. This involves deconstructing its own systems and practices to avoid reinforcing colonialism and perpetuating inequities. It also requires health promotion practitioners to support Indigenous self-determination and recognize Indigenous knowledges as a critical foundation for climate change and health solutions.  

More details: 

Indigenous people of the world are disproportionally impacted as a result of climate change, with many exposed to conditions that leave them more vulnerable to climate change such as socioeconomic deprivation, poorer access to and quality of health care, greater level of disease, and political marginalization. Further, many also have a unique relationship with the natural environment (e.g., co-existing with the land for food and medicine); land is central to Indigenous peoples (see link to UN Declaration under “Of additional interest”). 

Climate mitigation and adaptation efforts may also negatively impact Indigenous peoples. For example, carbon pricing mechanisms may disproportionately impact those living with low income, reforestation projects can disrupt traditional practices such as hunting, and renewable energy projects have negatively impacted culturally significant sites. 
Western framing and solutions for climate change have not included Indigenous perspectives. A shift in health promotion toward ecological public health, focusing on the interconnectedness between humans and the natural environment aligns with Indigenous worldviews, but they are not the same.  

The author suggests that the ideologies, systems and practices that are the foundation of colonialization of Indigenous peoples (such as the anthropocentric values of consumption associated with improved quality of life, the commodification and exploitation of natural resources, capitalism and individualism) are also at the root of environmental changes that threaten ecosystems. He suggests that in order to understand and address the impacts of climate change for Indigenous health, that Health Promotion needs to engage in a process of decolonization, and critically examine the ways in which its own systems and practice reinforce colonialism, inequities and power imbalances. He further poses that health promotion practitioners need to support Indigenous self-determination, and recognize that space needs to be created for Indigenous knowledges in generating solutions for climate change and health.   

Of additional interest: 

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples acknowledges that ‘Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired’. See: 

Editor’s comment:  

The author seems to allude to, but not directly state, the idea that Indigenous perspectives on climate change may be beneficial to all of humanity. 

Conflict of interest/ Funding: 

None declared.  

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