Re-Encountering Climate Change: Indigenous Peoples and the Quest for Epistemic Diversity in Global Climate Change Governance

Climate change assessment reports and intergovernmental agreements are increasingly recognizing the importance of other “knowledge systems” (traditional, local, or indigenous) for climate change adaptation and mitigation. The empirical point of departure of this dissertation is the recognition of other culturally specific ways of knowing, or what I call epistemic diversity, in the field of global climate change governance. I conceive this as a process of diversification of the knowledge basis of global climate policy. This dissertation accounts for this large process by addressing the questions of why and how epistemic diversity gains visibility and recognition in a field of governance, as well as how these translate into changes in the configuration of science-policy relations. By advancing an analytical approach to epistemic diversity, the research extends and challenges prevalent theories of epistemic authority in global or transnational spheres of politics.

Based on a multi-site process tracing, the dissertation traces this large process by following three trajectories of change. The global trajectory, on the one hand, looks into the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change against the backdrop of the historical recognition of epistemic diversity in the wider field of environmental governance. The Arctic and Amazon trajectories, on the other hand, follow these developments in the mobilization of indigenous peoples and the deployment of climate science and policy in specific socio-cultural regions. Specifically, the analysis zooms in on local sites of governance, namely, community-based adaptation in the Swedish side of Sápmi and forest-based mitigation in the indigenous territories of the Ecuadorian Amazon. The study finds that the recognition of indigenous knowledge (holders) is reconfiguring epistemic authority – albeit partially – by introducing criteria of epistemic diversity to guide social and political judgements about what counts as valuable knowledge to address the climate crisis.


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