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CLIMATE CHANGE: Bringing the Rainforest to Copenhagen

Enrique Gili* - IPS/TerraViva

COPENHAGEN, Dec 12 2009 (IPS) - As delegates deliberate over the extent carbon emissions will be curbed in the closing days of the U.N. summit here, the environmental ramifications of that agreement are likely to be felt in places far removed from the negotiating table, particularly among indigenous people on the front lines of climate change.

Poster from Conversations with the Earth - Indigenous Voices on Climate Change multi-media exhibit in Copenhagen.  Credit: Stephen Leahy/TerraViva

Poster from Conversations with the Earth - Indigenous Voices on Climate Change multi-media exhibit in Copenhagen. Credit: Stephen Leahy/TerraViva

In order to showcase the issues facing native people, the Indigenous Voices on Climate Change film festival is focusing a critical lens on global warming, with the assistance of some of the world’s most vulnerable people struggling to maintain traditional ways of life.

Indigenous Voices premiered at the Danish National Museum on Dec. 9 to a small audience, largely composed of delegates and NGO workers, who mingled with filmmakers and native storytellers.

Human beings have adapted to climate change since the dawn of time, crossing frozen land bridges and African grasslands in search of game.

But instead of temperatures rising slowly over the course of millennia, the temperature of Earth’s atmosphere is now expected to rise rapidly 1.4 to 6.0 degrees C. by the end of the 21st century.

According to climate model predictions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a leading scientific authority, this range represents the difference between mild climate disruption and near total failure of Earth’s natural systems.

“Things are happening fast and they are happening now,” said Ulf Dahre, director of the ethnographic collection at the Danish museum, on hand to watch the first installment of the Dec. 9-13 festival.

The films showcase stories from around the world through the eyes of people living in the world’s remaining rainforests and remote mountain highlands.

“Indigenous people are on the front lines of climate change,” said Citt Williams, a film producer who, in collaboration with the Tokyo-based United Nations University, scoured the globe to illustrate the problems native people face.

“These are participatory films, I would say,” Williams noted, speaking of the short films she shot and edited over the course of the past year in close collaboration with the indigenous people profiled.

In total, 22 films will be screened over five days, revealing the vast complexity of problems faced by local communities, from desertification in the Sahel to small islands submerged by rising seas.

Deforestation and regional conflicts between indigenous cultures and mining companies are now becoming a global concern as the linkages between habitat destruction and climate change become ever clearer.

According to the IPCC’s latest findings, deforestation for agricultural production accounts for 25 percent of heat-trapping emissions, while transport and industry account for 14 percent each.

Marilyn Wallace, a land conservation coordinator from New Queensland, Australia and a member of the Kuku Nyungkal clan, said she and her band were given a new beginning after being granted autonomy over their homelands. She urged the official delegates to take the time to “stop, look, listen and learn”.

Wallace and 14 other forest rangers manage their homelands in collaboration with Australian resource officials. The team is in the process of conducting a biological inventory of their range, incorporating traditional knowledge with cutting edge GIS digital mapping systems.

“We are preserving the wisdom of the elders with modern technology,” she said, a reminder that native people are not just victims of climate change but key players in the protection and preservation of ecosystems.

In keeping with the digital meme, many of the short documentaries can be downloaded and viewed on the OurWorld 2.0 website, further narrowing the distance between Copenhagen and the rainforest.

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