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Indigenous Voices Must Be Heard in Copenhagen

Indian Country Today, Commentary, Valerie Taliman Posted: Dec 08, 2009

On the eve of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, many Native peoples and governments remain unaware of what is at stake.

Our communities are disproportionately suffering the adverse effects of climate change, and Native voices must be heard in the global debate. Yet how many Indian nations are sending representatives, or participated in formulating the position and policies put forth by the United States?

Its another classic case of powerful people in faraway places making decisions that will impact indigenous lands, lifeways and communities without adequate input or consent from Native peoples.

World leaders from 192 nations are meeting in Copenhagen to set parameters for a crucial new climate change agreement. The United States and China, the two biggest polluters on the planet, have set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and it is imperative that world leaders adopt serious measures to tackle global warming.

The current carbon reduction proposals being considered are below those recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. According to the IPCC, developed countries need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and 80 95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, in order to provide a reasonable chance of averting warming that will significantly risk severe and irreversible impacts on human and ecological systems.

Nicholas Stern, a leading British climate change economist who prepared a report for COP15, said if countries dont reach agreement, world temperatures could rise by nine degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, making much of the world uninhabitable.

Native peoples are already seeing devastating impacts. In Alaska, some villages are literally falling into the ocean, while severe drought in the Southwest is scorching scarce grasslands and forests. In the Pacific Northwest, salmon runs have been decimated while vector borne diseases are spreading. Traditional foods and medicines are disappearing in Native territories across the country.

The recent Native Peoples Native Homelands Climate Change Workshop brought together nearly 400 Native leaders, scholars, elders, tribal college students and scientists to formulate a collective response to the far-reaching impacts of climate change on Native lands and communities.

At its conclusion, participants issued the Mystic Lake Declaration to offer solutions that can help Native communities form plans to address climate change impacts. Tribal governments, indigenous organizations, individuals, and others may read and sign on to the Declaration by going online.

The Declaration will be presented in Copenhagen, and longtime environmental champions such as the Indigenous Environmental Network will be there taking a stand to ensure we have a voice in global decisions being made about our land and lives.

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