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COP15: Following in their footsteps

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

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

By Clive Tesar

We have heard a lot this week from the peoples of the Arctic, those who live with climate change effects as a daily event. Today we heard from people who go even where the peoples of the Arctic do not, people who have been drawn to the unpopulated areas of the Arctic. As one of these people remarked today, there are no more blank spaces on the map to explore, but there are places seldom visited, and things unknown and unmeasured. In that sense, those who travel in the seldom visited areas of the Arctic can still be considered explorers.

Without the voyage of Sweden’s Ola Skinnarmo through the Northeast Passage above Arctic Russia we may not have known about the trampled walrus that he saw scattered across remote Chukotkan beaches.

These walrus are habitually resting on ice, diving off occasionally to feed on the clams that make up a lot of their food. This past year, there was no ice in the area that the walrus like to use, so they were crammed together on beaches, and every time they felt threatened, a stampede toward the safety of the water would end up crushing a few of the animals.

Without Pen Hadow’s gruelling march across the Arctic ice with his team, we would not have had such a detailed understanding of the ice thickness of the region. As the Catlin Arctic Survey team crossed the ice, they used drills to prove that much of what they were crossing was thin first year ice, not the thicker multi-year ice that would have been expected. The significance of this is that the thin ice melts quickly, which reinforces the warming in the Arctic, and affects the climate worldwide.

Cameron Dueck’s voyage through the Northwest Passage was a reminder that climate change is not the only hardship faced by northern peoples. As he visited northern communities, he came across places where a carton of milk cost 22 US dollars – this in a place where jobs and money are hard to come by.

Adding uncertainty about natural resources – the fish, seal, and other foods on which local rely – is a recipe for disaster.

The Ice Bear sculpture is designed to melt slowly throughout COP15 to reveal the bronze skeleton in the middle.The Ice Bear sculpture is designed to melt slowly throughout COP15 to reveal the bronze skeleton in the middle.

This was the last day of our live programming in the Arctic Tent, and it was with some sadness that I turned off the mics tonight. We came here to Copenhagen to provide a venue for voices from the Arctic, hoping that these voices would reach into the negotiations, and give that little extra push to negotiators juggling literally hundreds of clauses and considerations. While we will not be talking any more, we will keep the tent and exhibition out front until the talks are done. The ice bear is still perhaps the most photographed backdrop in Copenhagen.

The bronze skeleton of the bear is almost totally revealed now, there is just one chunk of ice still clinging to its flank. It is our hope that each person who has heard the voices this week, each person who looks back at their pictures of the ice bear will remember that the Arctic needs a deal here in Copenhagen, and it needs the people to hold their governments to that deal.

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