According to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Climate change refers to a change in the state of the climate that can be identified (e.g., by using statistical tests) by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties, and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer. Climate change may be due to natural internal processes or external forcings, or to persistent anthropogenic changes in the composition of the atmosphere or in land use. Note that the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in its Article 1, defines climate change as: ‘a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirect to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods’. The UNFCCC thus makes a distinction between climate change attributable to human activities altering the atmospheric composition, and climate variability attributable to natural causes.
Climate change is perhaps the most pressing environmental issue of our time. Perhaps no other community of people has experienced the adverse impacts of climate change more than the nation's Indian tribes. Climate change is affecting the subsistence harvesting of tribes due to changes in the migratory patterns and locations of animals and traditional plants. In most cases, tribes do not have the legal right to follow these animals and plants. In the far north, species never found before are beginning to show up along with disease-carrying insects against which Indian tribes have yet to establish immunities. Tribes can no longer travel safely on ice that has served their subsistence lifestyles well but which is now disappearing at a rapid rate. Alaska Native villages, in particular, have experienced increased storm surges which has led to subsequent coastal erosion and flooding. In fact, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, at least three tribes will need to be moved in the next 10 to 15 years as a result of these storm surges, largely due to climate change. Indian tribes in the lower 48 are facing their own issues as well due to climate change impacts. Among them are devastated fisheries in the northwest, drought-ridden lands in the Southwest, and unpredictable growing conditions in the Midwest. It doesn’t stop there but it at least illustrates what tribes across the country are facing and will continue to face without a concerted approach by the federal government to address the adverse impacts of climate change nationally. The reality of climate change and its impacts facing tribal communities across the country necessitates wisdom on the part of the EPA as to how it will respond to regulating GHGs so as not to adversely affect Indian tribes. Otherwise, many tribes could see their traditional ways of life come to a virtual end.
Impacts of Climate Change on Tribes in the United States (December 2009)
EPA Proposed Geologic Sequestration rule (November, 2008)