Indigenous Peoples and climate-induced relocation in Latin America and the Caribbean: managed retreat as a tool or a threat?

J Environ Stud Sci. 2021;11(3):352-364. doi: 10.1007/s13412-021-00693-2. Epub 2021 Jul 29.


Climate-induced relocation is expected to become an adaptive response for one sector of the society that is otherwise already in a vulnerable situation and often living in remote areas, that is, Indigenous Peoples. Several Latin American countries have referred to planned relocation or managed retreat as one of their adaptation strategies within their Nationally Determined Contributions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. However, a gap in academic analysis exists regarding not only the potential impacts but also the consequences of climate-induced planned relocations both in the broader context of Latin America and in the specific case of Indigenous Peoples living in that region. In addition, academia has so far underexplored the adverse impacts of managed retreat on Indigenous Peoples, such as the loss of a sense of community, culture, and traditional knowledge. Against this background, this article offers an overview on two key cases of climate-induced (planned) relocation of Indigenous Peoples in Latin America and the Caribbean (the Gunayala people in the San Blás archipelago in Panama and the case of the densely Indigenous-inhabited Mexican state of Chiapas), explores whether managed retreat has been or may become a tool or a threat, and provides a list of specific policy recommendations to be taken into consideration in similar cases.

Keywords: Chiapas; Climate change; Gunayala; Indigenous Peoples; Managed retreat; Planned relocation.