IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

16.5.5 Enhancing adaptive capacity Traditional knowledge and past experience

Adaptive capacity and resilience can also be strengthened through the application of traditional knowledge and past experience of environmental changes. In the TAR, Nurse et al. (2001) noted that some traditional island assets, including subsistence and traditional technologies, skills and knowledge, and community structures, and coastal areas containing spiritual, cultural and heritage sites, appeared to be at risk from climate change, and particularly sea-level rise. They argued that some of these values and traditions are compatible with modern conservation and environmental practices.

Since then, several examples of such practices have been described. For instance, Hoffmann (2002) has shown that the implementation of traditional marine social institutions, as exemplified in the Ra’ui in Rarotonga, Cook Islands, is an effective conservation management tool, and is improving coral reef health; while Aswani and Hamilton (2004) show how indigenous ecological knowledge and customary sea tenure may be integrated with modern marine and social science to conserve the bumphead parrotfish in Roviana Lagoon, Solomon Islands. Changes in sea tenure, back to more traditional roles, have also occurred in Kiribati (Thomas, 2001).

The utility of traditional knowledge and practices can also be expanded to link not only with biodiversity conservation but also with tourism. For instance, in a coastal village on Vanua Levu, Fiji, the philosophy of vanua (which refers to the connection of people with the land through their ancestors and guardian spirits) has served as a guiding principle for the villagers in the management and sustainable use of the rainforest, mangrove forest, coral reefs, and village gardens. Sinha and Bushell (2002) have shown that the same traditional concept can be the basis for biodiversity conservation, because the ecological systems upon which the villagers depend for subsistence are the very same resources that support tourism. These examples indicate that local knowledge, management frameworks and skills could be important components of adaptive capacity in those small islands that still have some traditional foundations.