Mother Earth and climate justice

Indigenous peoples’ perspectives of an alternative development paradigm

Authored by: Alan Jarandilla Nuñez

Routledge Handbook of Climate Justice

Print publication date:  November  2018
Online publication date:  November  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138689350
eBook ISBN: 9781315537689
Adobe ISBN:




Climate justice has emerged as an important concept in the political discourse around climate change. Although there is no agreed-upon definition of climate justice, the Eurocentric logic is at the core of it. Indigenous peoples are already experiencing the effects of climate change and have joined the climate justice movement, bringing their cosmovision, knowledge and values. This chapter will examine the perspectives around climate justice of indigenous peoples from the Andean region from a theoretical approach. The existing coloniality of knowledge has silenced the voices of indigenous peoples in the academic and political debate. Indigenous peoples are critical to the anthropocentric concept of climate justice and propose to transform it from a cosmocentric perspective. Recognising Mother Earth as a being with rights and constructing an alternative development paradigm based on the concept of living-well are two key elements of the cosmocentric concept of climate justice that indigenous peoples promote. In this context, living-well constitutes a holistic and systemic alternative to the current development paradigm.

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Mother Earth and climate justice


Indigenous peoples’ fights and struggles are historical. Neither colonisation nor the existing coloniality of power (Quijano, 1992, 1997, 2014) and knowledge (Castro-Gómez, 2000) has stopped the claim of indigenous peoples for respect of their territories, ways of life and political organising, culture, knowledge and natural resources. Some Eurocentric development theories assumed that as a result of development, indigenous cultures would extinguish (Hettne, 2007); however, contrary to that perception, indigenous peoples are emerging as key actors in the national and international arenas. While there have been some recent victories at the international level, with the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples within the United Nations (UN), indigenous peoples continue to call for justice. The demand for justice of indigenous peoples includes, among others, climate justice.

Climate justice is not a concept originated within indigenous peoples’ communities or knowledge. Also, there is no agreed-upon academic concept for climate justice. It is said that Edith Brown Weiss (1991) first used the term climate justice (Mary Robinson Foundation, 2013) and, gradually, the term became popular in the political discourse around climate change. Climate justice could be understood in terms of ensuring that societies and individuals have the ability to deal with the preparation, response and recovery from the adverse impacts of climate change, taking into account the differences between the level of vulnerability, the availability of resources and differences in capacities (Preston et al., 2014). Also, it could be understood in terms of equity (Huntjens and Zhang, 2016). Developed countries have a historical responsibility with regards to climate change: their level of development is a result of the rapid increase of their emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) since the Industrial Revolution (Adams and Luchsinger, 2009). On the other hand, the least responsible will suffer the greatest adverse effects of climate change. This equity approach takes into account the perspective that some developing countries will need to continue emitting GHGs (or even increase their emissions) to meet their development needs; thus, the responsibility of cutting down emissions drastically relies on developed countries, who additionally need to cooperate with financial resources and technology transfer to help with mitigation and adaptation strategies. Other perspectives around climate justice add the importance of participation of the most vulnerable in decision-making processes related to climate change and excluding the so-called false solutions in the policy responses to climate change (Tokar, 2013).

Certainly, one common aspect of the most-used concepts of climate justice is what some authors define as a human-centred approach, where development and human rights are linked (Huntjens and Zhang, 2016). However, we prefer to define them as anthropocentric concepts of climate justice, acknowledging the philosophical paradigm that underpins those concepts. This paradigm, Eurocentric, considers human beings as the centre of climate justice efforts and demands. This paradigm also dominates the conceptions around sustainable development that are included in international instruments (United Nations, 1992). 1 Although the origin and anthropocentric conception of climate justice is Eurocentric, indigenous peoples have deconstructed, resignified and appropriated it with new connotations to raise their voices and visions for climate change action. As the effects of climate change are already being felt by many indigenous communities around the world (Henriksen, 2007), indigenous peoples have joined the climate justice movement and are contributing with their views, cosmovision and knowledge.

This chapter aims to describe the indigenous peoples’ perspectives on climate justice. In its first part, the chapter presents a background of indigenous peoples and climate change, the vulnerability of indigenous peoples, how indigenous peoples are emerging as important actors in climate change policy and how coloniality of knowledge is trying to subalternise indigenous peoples’ knowledge. The second part provides an in-depth analysis of the cosmocentric concept of climate justice that indigenous peoples propose and promote at different levels, the demands of indigenous peoples around climate justice and climate change, and some victories of indigenous peoples of Bolivia and Ecuador. The last part aims to explain one of the most important contributions of indigenous peoples to the climate justice movement, the proposal of an alternative development paradigm for the world based on their knowledge, cosmovision and values.

Indigenous peoples are a diverse and heterogeneous group. Although many of them share some sort of values and concepts, it is not possible to talk about indigenous peoples as a whole. It would mean having the reductionist approach we aim to avoid. In this sense, to clarify, the concepts and analysis provided in this chapter are referring to indigenous peoples from the Andean region of South America, specifically, the Quechuas and Aymaras from Bolivia and Ecuador.

Climate change and indigenous peoples

To have a brief and initial approach of the context of indigenous peoples with regards to climate change, it is important to consider three aspects: (1) the impact of climate change they are already experiencing, (2) the fact that indigenous peoples are being systematically marginalised in international climate change negotiations and (3) how the implementation of climate action initiatives are not including their voices and knowledge.

Indigenous peoples are already suffering the effects of climate change (Kronik and Verner, 2010). In the Amazon basin, climate change has caused a variation in flooding since 1999, which has important consequences to the reproduction of fish, affecting the main livelihoods of indigenous communities that live near the Amazon River (Kronik and Verner, 2010). In Asia, the typhoon Soudelor hit Taiwan in 2015 and nearly caused the disappearance of the Wulai Tribe (Carling et al., 2015). In the Arctic region, the Inuit are facing climate change impacts as the snow cover is declining, food insecurity is rising and permafrost is melting rapidly, among other impacts; this situation has been brought to the attention of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) (Atapattu, 2013) and filed as a petition before the IACHR against the U.S. government (Wagner and Goldberg, 2004). These are only a few examples of some climate change effects being felt by indigenous communities around the world.

If developing countries have little responsibility for climate change, then indigenous peoples have the least (Müller and Walk, 2013). However, they are systematically excluded from decision-making processes of climate policy at the international and national levels and in the implementation of mitigation and adaptation strategies in their countries and territories. In the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) processes, some indigenous representatives are able to attend the negotiations, but their participation is not meaningful and their contributions and proposals are hardly ever included in outcome documents. Proofs of that are the different criticisms from indigenous peoples about the Paris Agreement (Leaness, 2017). Also, the number of indigenous peoples’ representatives in the UNFCCC negotiations cannot be compared with the large delegations of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), other civil society organisations (CSOs) and the private sector (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2017).

To counter this systematic exclusion, indigenous peoples have organised some conferences and gatherings to share proposals and develop common positions around the UNFCCC processes. Some examples include the Indigenous Peoples’ Global Summit on Climate Change, a global gathering of indigenous representatives where The Anchorage Declaration was adopted in April 2009. It recognised that Mother Earth is facing a period of climate crisis and the “vital role of indigenous peoples in defending and healing Mother Earth” (Indigenous Peoples’ Global Summit on Climate Change, 2009). A few months later, in September 2009, the International Indigenous People’s Forum on Climate Change was held in Bangkok, and a Policy Paper on Climate Change was developed. Both documents compile a series of demands from indigenous peoples, such as the respect for their lands, territories, natural resources and environment, the recognition and respect of the right to self-determination, among others.

Moreover, the government of the Plurinational State of Bolivia organised the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth with broad participation of indigenous peoples’ representatives. The People’s Agreement recalled that “Mother Earth is wounded and the future of humanity is in danger” (Bolivia, Plurinational State of, 2010b). This Agreement also recognises that the civilising model, based on patriarchy and the destruction of Mother Earth, is facing a terminal crisis. As part of the outcome documents of the conference, a proposal for Universal Declaration of the Rights of the Mother Earth was adopted (Bolivia, Pluri-national State of, 2010b). This is an important declaration that translates part of the indigenous peoples’ perspectives on climate justice and provides a concrete proposal based on indigenous peoples’ cosmovision. There are other declarations of indigenous peoples that were drafted in regional summits. To mention a few, the Iximche Declaration (2007), the La María Declaration (2013), the Mama Quta Titikaka Declaration (2009) and the Temuko Declaration (2009) are some declarations of indigenous peoples’ summits of the Latin American region.

Indigenous peoples are key stakeholders in climate change action. Their ways of life, their holistic cosmovision and their relationship to the different systems of life and Mother Earth provide them with a unique knowledge that is currently misunderstood and undervalued. In recent years, the incorporation of indigenous peoples’ knowledge into adaptation strategies has been neglected (Müller and Walk, 2013), and many opportunities have been lost. In this sense, indigenous peoples continuously oppose some strategies that do not take into account their knowledge on their lands and territories, such as initiatives under the mechanism of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) (Kill, 2015).

It is important to acknowledge that some initiatives that make efforts to recognise and include indigenous knowledge have started (Fabiyi and Oloukoi, 2013), but a robust coloniality of knowledge still exists in the sphere of climate solutions. Unfortunately, the common coloniality of knowledge – where power relations and the Eurocentric epistemology defines what is considered science, and where rationalism is the unique lens of knowledge generation (Lander, 2000) – is reinforced with a misunderstanding of an element of climate justice. Apparently, the historical responsibility of developed countries is not only understood in terms of their responsibility for cutting down their GHG emissions in an accelerated way, but also in terms of their exclusive responsibility for “finding the solutions” to climate change; hence, developed countries assume they are the only ones that will develop that knowledge. In this sense, the power relations between the centre and the periphery of the world system (Wallerstein, 1989) explains the idea of the developed world as the generator of the solutions and the developing world as the receptor (Ulloa, 2012). All of these perspectives consolidate a vision in which the “expert knowledge” of developed countries’ universities will draw a course of action on climate policy (Ulloa, 2012). In this scenario, indigenous peoples’ voices are silenced, and their knowledge is not considered as important as “science” coming from developed countries’ experts.

Providing meaningful participation mechanisms for indigenous peoples should be considered as an important opportunity for establishing a horizontal dialogue of multiple rationalisms and different systems of knowledge. Further, in the academic arena it is important to promote and spread indigenous peoples’ knowledge, not considering it less important, but equal to the knowledge developed with what is currently considered as “scientific methodology.” This Eurocentrism and coloniality of knowledge not only affects the rights of indigenous peoples but also establishes a systematic exclusion where humanity loses opportunities of solving the climate crisis with a broad range of different perspectives and rationalities. The current context of climate change for indigenous peoples is a context in which they have limited opportunities of influencing international climate change policies, and participation difficulties and barriers in local climate action.

Indigenous peoples and climate justice

As mentioned before, climate justice is not a concept that has an origin in indigenous peoples’ language or knowledge. Nevertheless, indigenous peoples have deconstructed, resignified and appropriated it; they have included their perspectives, knowledge and cosmovision in the climate justice concept and, in this regard, have joined the climate justice movement as important stakeholders. To comprehend indigenous peoples’ conception of climate justice, it is important to mention and describe the key elements that they added to the most-used concepts of climate justice. Similarly, it is important to have a clear understanding of the demands made by indigenous peoples in the search for climate justice.

As opposed to the anthropocentric concept of climate justice, indigenous peoples propose a “cosmocentric” concept of climate justice, based on their cosmocentric conception of life (Pacheco Balanza, 2013). The anthropocentric concept of climate justice is human-centred, places all reasoning behind climate justice in the impact of climate change to the most vulnerable populations that have the least responsibility for causing climate change. In opposition, the rationality of the cosmocentric conception of climate justice of indigenous peoples goes far beyond. The cosmocentric conception of climate justice is rooted in the protection of life, not only human life but all systems of life that coexist and are interrelated in our world.

According to indigenous peoples’ rationality, we, as human beings, are part of Mother Earth and coexist with different living beings. The interrelationship among beings is strong, and everything has an impact on the whole system. On the contrary, the modern rationality leads us to conceive of humans and nature as two different things: on the one side, nature as a source of resources for humanity – food, water, minerals, air, etc. – and on the other side, human beings as rational, with the capacity to transform and use those resources, with the idea of them being unlimited. For indigenous peoples, there is no such division. Both humans and Mother Earth are beings that have the right to life. In this sense, humans should not consider themselves as superior to other living beings in the world, who also have different ways of organising and contributing to the systems of life on earth.

For indigenous peoples, the demands around climate justice need to include the claim for recognition of the rights of Mother Earth. Therefore, indigenous peoples have actively contributed to the draft of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth adopted in the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth (Bolivia, Plurinational State of, 2010b). This Declaration demonstrates the understanding of indigenous peoples of Mother Earth as a living being, and as such, with rights that need to be guaranteed. That is one of the most important aspects of the resignified concept of climate justice, that it transforms the concept from an anthropocentric vision to a cosmocentric one. This does not mean that other aspects of the concept of climate justice as developed initially are not taken into account by indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples recognise the common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities principle as a basis of climate justice (emphasising the historical responsibility of developed countries), and they also endorse the demand for inclusion of voices of the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change in international climate policy-making, and the need of financial cooperation for adaptation and mitigation strategies.

When demanding climate justice, indigenous peoples also oppose market-based approaches and other approaches that aim to establish a commodification system of the functions of Mother Earth (Pacheco Balanza, 2013), such as payments for ecosystem services. In addition, indigenous peoples oppose the REDD+ initiative – a payment for ecosystem services scheme – as it only considers the carbon capture function of forests. For indigenous peoples that live in forestry lands, forests are not only their primary source of livelihoods, but they are an integral part of the system of life that permits the reproduction of their way of living, their communities and the different species that coexist in that ecosystem; forests also have a spiritual value. Further, indigenous peoples are critical to the false solutions related to technology that are trying to be implemented. Carbon capture technologies, geoengineering, synthetic biology, genetically modified organisms, among others, are some technologies that represent a high risk not only for humanity but for Mother Earth as a whole. Those “innovations” are presented by companies and scientists as promising solutions for climate change and some of its effects. However, they do not address the root causes of climate change, the unsustainable consumption and production patterns of society and the hegemonic civilising model and development paradigm.

In addition to the demands described earlier, indigenous peoples have specific demands related to their way of living, lands, territories and the respect of their rights. In many countries, indigenous peoples have problems in their lands and territories as governments are not willing to recognise their collective ownership. Issues also arise when governments give licenses and permissions to transnational companies to extract natural resources located in indigenous territories without prior, free and informed consent as a right recognised in the Covenant 169 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Continuously, indigenous peoples demand the end of extractives not only because of the occupation of part of their territory, but most important because they also pollute rivers, lands and cause severe environmental impacts that affect the ecosystem, water and livelihoods of indigenous peoples, putting in danger their communities and Mother Earth.

According to the indigenous peoples’ conception of climate justice, it cannot be achieved unless there is a change in the current developed paradigm. The current development paradigm, based on capitalism as the economic system, is Eurocentric, anthropocentric, hegemonic and destructive, and perpetuates and reproduces inequalities and social exclusion, establishes unsustainable consumption and production patterns, considers nature as a resource and commodity and upholds the idea of the unlimited economic growth, among other characteristics. Capitalism imposes new forms of coloniality and constitutes a domination system for the entire world and Mother Earth. For the sake of generating unlimited income, capitalism does not consider planetary boundaries and the regeneration capacities of Mother Earth. In this sense, the demand for recognition of the rights of Mother Earth and the construction of a new development paradigm are at the core of the indigenous climate justice concept.

The indigenous peoples’ call for climate justice is present at all levels. At the national level, indigenous peoples from Bolivia and Ecuador have also demanded the recognition of their rights and the rights of Mother Earth. In the case of Bolivia, the Political Constitution approved in 2009 expressly recognises the rights of indigenous peoples to self-determination and territoriality, to cultural identity, to the collective ownership of land, to the protection of their sacred places, and to the practice of their political, juridical and economic systems according to their worldview (Bolivia, Plurinational State of, 2009). Further, the law on the rights of Mother Earth was approved in 2010 and recognises Mother Earth as a subject of rights (Bolivia, Plurinational State of, 2010a); the Framework Law of Mother Earth and Holistic Development for Living-Well, which aims to establish the vision and the basics of the holistic development in balance and harmony with Mother Earth, is a special governmental effort to incorporate a new framework for development that respects the regeneration capacities of the components and systems of life of Mother Earth (Bolivia, Plurinational State of, 2012). Those are some of the victories of indigenous people’s demands for climate justice that have been incorporated into concrete legal texts in Bolivia.

In Ecuador, the recognition of the rights of Mother Earth starts in its Constitution. Ecuador approved a new Constitution in September 2008, and both the Bolivian and Ecuadorian processes of developing the constitutional texts happened almost at the same time. Although the constitutional text mentions Mother Earth or “Pacha Mama” only twice, Chapter 7 of Title II recognises a range of rights to nature. Ecuador recognises that nature has the right to integral respect for its existence and for the maintenance and regeneration of its life cycles, its structure, its functions and its evolutionary processes (Ecuador, 2008). The constitutional text enables every person to call upon public authorities to enforce the rights of Mother Earth. Rights of nature recognised in Ecuador are related to restoration, the prevention of extinction of species, and the mitigation of environmental impacts related to the extraction of non-renewable natural resources, among others.

As we can see, in the search for climate justice, indigenous peoples are making important progress at the national level. It is important to note that both in Bolivia and Ecuador this process is full of contradictions and shortfalls – the Yasuni initiative in Ecuador and the TIPNIS case in Bolivia are just two examples – but, as in every process, these contradictions need to be addressed with participative dialogue. These are just initial steps towards the broad recognition of the rights of Mother Earth worldwide.

An alternative development paradigm

Our world is facing multiple crises (Dierckxsens, 2011), and the climate crisis is just one of them. To overcome this situation and achieve climate justice, indigenous peoples propose an alternative development paradigm. The reasons behind the need for an alternative development paradigm are diverse. The current economic system has caused climate change and, at the same time, it produced, reproduced and exacerbated economic, social and cultural inequalities both among and within countries. Capitalism has imposed new forms of coloniality that reinforce the domination system at the global level and has established a Eurocentric worldview and civilising model as a unique, non-questionable and hegemonic horizon for humanity. Also, the false solutions that were developed within this logic do not provide real answers on how to deal with the climate crisis.

According to the anthropocentric rationalism, human beings are the centre of everything, and Mother Earth is just a source of merchandises to be traded with the rules of the free market (with some regulations in a few cases). In this sense, the current development paradigm conceives economic growth as having no limits and as an end unto itself – economic growth is supposed to produce a number of benefits such as poverty alleviation, even though data demonstrates that the growth of the world’s economy has increased inequalities (Alvaredo et al., 2018) – so it privileges economic growth against social and cultural inclusion, environmental protection, biodiversity conservation, ecosystem restoration and holistic approaches that take into account all dimensions of the systems of life.

Nevertheless, rethinking development is not an easy process. Eurocentrism has already imposed an epistemology that does not allow us to make sense and provide meaning to alternative world-views and development paradigms and the basis that support them (Artaraz and Calestani, 2013). It is a common limitation that requires to be acknowledged. In response to that, the development of an “epistemology of the South” (De Sousa Santos, 2010) is necessary. This epistemology of the South would allow us not only to understand different worldviews but also to contribute to the development of those alternatives we need to consolidate.

In this context, indigenous peoples have resisted coloniality and maintained their worldview and values, which provide the basis of their proposed alternative of development. The Andean cosmovision has already been studied by some researchers. Yet, their limitations to understand the worldview of indigenous peoples from the Andean region are those explained here. These limitations tend to cause some misunderstandings and misconceptions of their values and cosmovision. For example, according to Elmar Schmidt, the indigenous peoples’ concept of “buen vivir” or living-well 2 is an appropriation of some environmental imaginations managed and proposed at the global level. Consistent with that theory, the concepts of the good life of Aristotle and other well-known Eurocentric philosophies are transformed and adapted by indigenous peoples. (Schmidt, 2016). We firmly disagree with that hypothesis. It is a reductionist approach that aims to subalternise indigenous knowledge and cosmovision and reproduces the coloniality of knowledge established in the academia. Nevertheless, we acknowledge that some concepts developed in other regions – including Europe – like “eudaimonia” from Aristotle share some values and ideas with indigenous concepts, but different paradigms, worldviews, and historical processes led to the development of each of them.

There is a broad range of concepts of the Andean cosmovision and philosophy that need to be understood because they are key elements of the proposed alternative development paradigm. It is important to notice the presence of language barriers to fully describe the indigenous cosmovision. “Pacha Mama,” “Pachamama” or Mother Earth 3 is a complex concept, and it cannot be understood only in terms of “nature.” Pacha is a form of life that participates in the “multiverse” (Huanacuni, 2010) with the consciousness of space-time of here and now; thus, Mother Earth means more than both words; it expresses life as a broad concept, the nature of life (Estermann, 1998). We, as human beings, are part of Mother Earth and its systems of life. All elements of Mother Earth are complementary and interrelated. The strong relation with Mother Earth of indigenous peoples influences their culture, knowledge and ways of organising. That relation is not instrumental; it is a relation between mother and sons (Bautista, 2013). Mother Earth has cycles, and everything has cycles according to the Andean cosmovision.

“Suma Qamaña,” “Sumak Kawsay,” “Sumakawsay” or living-well 4 is the alternative development paradigm in itself. It is not a unique concept, but rather a concept with multiple but similar meanings (Calestani, 2009). Living-well is a civilising horizon that differs from the “common good” concept. The common good is only referred to the wellbeing of human beings, while living-well refers to everything that exists, the Mother Earth and the different systems of life, promoting the balance and harmony among all of them (Huanacuni, 2010). Living-well is life in fullness, in harmony, balance and respect with everything that exists, with the cosmos and Mother Earth. It is a process of reconstructing the sense of life and being critical to the current development model. It is a concept that comes from within indigenous peoples’ cosmovision and values. It is not about returning to the past, but it is about recovering the rationality of a community of life (Bautista, 2013), proving a new sense and meaning to the present and drawing new perspectives for the future of the world, where Mother Earth and all beings that coexist live in balance and harmony. Living-well opposes the notion of living better. Living better (Huanacuni, 2010) is a notion that underpins the capitalist ideology, where economic growth has no limits and where the objectives of humans are related to an infinite accumulation of goods. Living better stimulates consumerism and the depredation of the systems of life (Huanacuni, 2013). Living-well promotes the balance of life and harmony of all systems of life.

Harmony should not be understood in terms of everything being perfect. The Andean cosmovision acknowledges that harmony has lots of contradictions but, from an indigenous perspective, contradictions are complementary. That’s the Principle of Complementarity of Opposites, which states that if two things are opposite, one does not exclude the other, but each one complements the other (Medina, 2011). This idea, already present in the indigenous paradigm, has been explained in the theory of the wave-particle duality and recent developments of quantum physics. The western concept of the Law of the Excluded Middle states that one idea can be true or false, nothing else; however, the complementarity of opposites does not categorise in true or false, but instead, it focuses on the interrelations and the complementarity of the contraries, not excluding any of them and finding a balance between them.

Living in harmony with Mother Earth and walking towards living-well implies not excluding the different contradictions that exist in the world, even the contradictions between civilisations, paradigms and worldviews; it implies acknowledging the complementarity of them, their value for the systems of life and developing a horizontal interaction between them. Living-well is not about returning to the past, with no technology; it is about changing the way we conceive life. According to living-well, technology should serve life and not put it at risk; it should serve Mother Earth and everything that exists, not only humans and capitalism.

Living-well means transforming the dominant anthropocentric worldview and walking towards a cosmocentric one. It is important to rethink and transform our current relations with Mother Earth and recognise that human beings and Mother Earth are equal (Pacheco Balanza, 2013). Living-well is based on reciprocity, where the interdependence, interrelations and balance are considered. Reciprocity is present in all spheres of life, in all forms of relations, not only in the relations among humans but with all living beings of the systems of life. Being aware of the strong relationships that coexist in the different systems of life makes us take care of all forms of life. Living-well is based on living in community, where Mother Earth, the different species and elements of life are integral and important parts of the community, together with humans.

Living-well is a holistic concept and a systemic alternative. It considers human beings, Mother Earth, the systems of life, the importance of all the elements of the cosmos, its relations, contradictions, its complementarity and its interdependence. It embraces contradictions to find balance, complementarity and reciprocity for life. It promotes balance and harmony for all. However, there is not a recipe to achieve living-well, for it is an ongoing reconstruction process. It is not a proposal that is totally finished (Ibáñez Izquierdo, 2013, 2014), and it is receptive to other concepts and approaches. There are some concepts that are being critical to the current development paradigm that could start a knowledge dialogue with the civilising horizon of living-well, such as degrowth, ecofeminism, decolonialism and others. The knowledge dialogue should not aim to subsume one concept into the other, but on the contrary, should acknowledge their contradictions and emphasise the complementarity and interrelations between them.

With the current situation of the world, walking towards living-well is not an easy process, but it is a need for humanity and Mother Earth. Even in countries like Bolivia and Ecuador, where living-well is recognised within their legal frameworks, the implementation of an alternative development paradigm is demonstrating difficulties (Artaraz and Calestani, 2013) and is the subject of a range of criticisms. There is a need for more awareness and a better understanding of living-well at all levels.

Indigenous peoples propose a new and alternative development paradigm to be integrated into the search for climate justice worldwide. Together with this, indigenous peoples propose to transform the rooted anthropocentrism in the climate justice concept and to build a cosmocentric conception of climate justice, integrating the respect of Mother Earth, recognising the rights of Mother Earth and ceasing considering humans as the centre of all efforts around climate justice. Implementing the living-well civilising horizon will be a complex process, but it should be considered a unique opportunity for humanity to recognise the mistakes from the past and reconstruct a future based on values of a community of life.


The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, adopted in 1992, in its Article 1 states that “Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development.”

In this chapter, when referring to “buen vivir” or “vivir bien” we will use the translation of living-well.

When referring to Mother Earth, we aim to translate the indigenous words of “Pacha Mama” or “Pachamama.”

Suma Qamaña is the Aymara equivalent to “vivir bien” in Spanish and living-well in English, Sumak Kawsay or Sumakawsay is the Quechua equivalent. These indigenous concepts don’t have a direct translation, so we aim to describe them acknowledging that limitation. When using living-well, we refer to these concepts indistinctively.


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