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COP15: Finishing with a flourish

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During the December climate negotiations, a team from WWF had an ‘Arctic Tent’ on a main Copenhagen square and invited lots of people to help tell the stories of arctic climate change.

In front of the tent, there was a life sized polar bear carved from ice, created by renowned wildlife sculptor, Mark Coreth, and a stunning outdoor exhibit by some of the top photographers working in the Arctic today.

By Clive Tesar

The Arctic Tent comes down today, on the same day that President Obama comes to town to join other world leaders in the negotiations. There is hope that he will be the catalyst for a deal that truly does give the world what it needs, levels of emission reductions that keep the global average temperature rise at well under 2 degrees.

As our last act yesterday in bringing voices of the north to the negotiations, we finished with a flourish. The tent was packed to capacity to hear indigenous people from North America and Europe talk about the impact of change on caribou and reindeer.

Chelsea Charlie, a 17-year-old from Old Crow in Canada’s Yukon Territory, spoke of the fears of her community as the caribou herd they have relied on for thousands of years begins to take new migration routes, and the herd numbers are dropping. A chain of existence that has persisted for ten thousand years may be drawing to a close, as she said, “My generation may not be able to rely on these traditional food sources.”

Olav Mathis Eira, a reindeer herder from northern Norway, spoke of being not only affected by the problems of climate change, as reindeer pasture changes, but also by the solutions. Wind farms and hydro dams are increasingly popping up on traditional Saami lands, further shrinking available reindeer pasture.

The final speaker, chief Bill Erasmus from Canada’s Northwest Territories, focused on the unfairness of indigenous peoples bearing the major impacts of climate change, and at the same time doing the least to cause the problems. Now he believes that unfairness is compounded as the negotiations have excluded most observers from the last days of the meetings, including the indigenous peoples who gathered here to make themselves heard. In fact, the whole presentation yesterday was originally scheduled for the negotiating area, the Bella Centre. The organisers asked if they could move it to the Arctic Tent when they realized that access would be so restricted that many people would not be able to come to hear them.

So the indigenous peoples delivered their messages, and they were indeed heard by many people. We hope that President Obama, and his fellow leaders, are listening. While the tent may be down, the people who breathed life into over the past two weeks remain, and they will not give up the fight to be heard, and to push for a fair and effective climate deal.

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