Indigenous People's Climate Change Summit Giving "Unified Voice"

Aboriginal rangers assessing sea rise level damage in Kowanyama, Australia (Photo: Citt Williams)

In anticipation of December's Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen, over 500 delegates from 80 countries gathered at this week's Indigenous Peoples Global Summit on Climate Change have declared that indigenous rights must be included in future global agreements on climate change.

Hosted by the Inuit Circumpolar Council and sponsored by the United Nations, the five-day conference is being held in Anchorage, Alaska. The goal is to give a stronger political voice to indigenous peoples on climate change issues, in addition to sharing traditional knowledge and adaptive techniques. Indigenous unity on climate change
Patricia Cochran, chairwoman of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (which represents 150,000 Inuit worldwide) said the conference intends to provide "a unified voice" to indigenous peoples who contribute the least but bear the brunt of climate change impact — such as rises in sea levels, drought, threatened food security and "climigration" (migration of communities brought on by severe climate change).

"Indigenous Peoples are on the front lines of this global problem at a time when their cultures and livelihoods in traditional lands are already threatened by such trends as accelerating natural resource development stimulated by trade liberalization and globalization," she explained.

Connecting indigenous rights and climate change
The conference represents a cross-section of the estimated 5,000 distinct groups of Indigenous Peoples that have been identified in more than 70 countries, with a combined global population estimated at 300-350 million - representing about 6% of humanity.

"Our indigenous people are saying that the effects of climate change right now [are] affecting our right to practise our culture," said Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network. "It's affecting our right to live in a sustainable manner, and to have access to our traditional food systems."

The right to preserve and practice indigenous cultural customs, institutions and self-determination is sanctioned in the United Nations' Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In addition to recommendations from this week's conference, indigenous groups are working for the adoption of the Declaration at the Copenhagen summit, which will be held to negotiate a successor to the Kyoto Agreement.

"Our strategy is to try to get the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to adopt the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People within its body," said Goldtooth.

Sharing traditional knowledge
Delegates also shared their collective experiences in using traditional methods of adapting to harsh climates and climate change.

Some of the topics included traditional methods of shoreline reinforcement, land stabilization and reclamation, watershed protection, traditional agricultural and drought management methods, indigenous plant knowledge and horticulture.

Organizers say that indigenous knowledge can be concretely applied to reduce the impacts of climate change. One example includes the northern Australian Aborigines whose use of fire in traditional forest management techniques allowed them to sell $17 million worth of carbon credits to other polluting industries.

Said Sam Johnston of co-sponsor United Nations University, Tokyo: "Their traditional knowledge is very important."

via press release and AP
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Tags: Alaska | Carbon Emissions | United Nations | United States

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