Native Nations have historically adapted to their environment yet today they face unique challenges linked to climate change. Native Americans have a deep connection to the natural environment within which their livelihoods, cultural identity, and ceremonial practices are rooted. Changes to water systems, landscapes, and ecosystems, in combination with socio-economic and political factors, amplify tribal vulnerabilities to climate change.
In the Southwest, tribes are already experiencing a range of impacts that can be associated with climate change. These effects include:
- Major water supply and water quality issues in the context of prolonged drought;
- Loss of ecosystem services and reduced ability to grow or collect important traditional foods, plants, and other raw materials;
- Increased impacts to forest resources from large and landscape-transforming wildfires due to drought, aridity, and insect infestations;
- Health impacts from heat waves, dust storms, and smoke from wildfires; and the potential spread of infectious diseases from geographic shifts in disease vectors.
The remoteness of many tribal communities can make it difficult to aid tribal members during extreme weather events (e.g. floods and heat waves) and can lead to overstressed emergency management systems. Thus, additional capacity and programs to assist tribal communities are needed to prepare for and adapt to climate change.
The SW CSC has funded several projects that help tribal communities mitigate and adapt to climate change impacts. We have also been working with Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions (CCASS) at the University of Arizona over the past year to build the first phase of the Native Nations Climate Adaptation Program (NNCAP) partnership to support the climate adaptation capacity of tribes in the Southwest. Additionally, we have partnered with the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to support a Tribal Climate Liaison to help support and build capacity with regional tribal communities and organizations.