Reports from Xinhua
22 MAY 2009 NEW YORK (Pacnews) ----- -- Colorful costumes, a sprinkling of bold headdresses, enlivened the dull corridors of the UN conference complex as indigenous peoples discussed mutual problems, with land rights and the effects of climate change ranking topmost.
But while land rights are sought by virtually all, climate change is not necessarily bad for all, despite forecasts of disaster for many.
The annual meeting of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is under an urgent mandate to activate the 2007 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples through national legislation around the world.
Many are focusing that discussion on the land rights issue which has been brought to the fore by climate change, namely over oil, gas and mineral exploitation and forestation of northern lands.
Perhaps the most dramatic predicted effect of climate change is flooding, brought on by melting polar ice caps. While native peoples in the northern Arctic Circle complain of losing ice and snow cover, many in southern climes of the cold region report more accessible land.
While hunting and fishing opportunities from ice cover may be dwindling closer to the North Pole, further a field to the south, land is being opened up to vegetation, animals and exploitation and still further, just So, when Pelpina Sahureka of the Malucca Islands of Indonesia thinks of climate change she thinks of existence and mud; mud from flooding of her native island of Haruka, home to her people, the Banda Abat Alifuru, who she is representing at the conference.
Their home is a “typical” tropical island, with palm-lined beaches, rain forest and mountains laying between the Ceram and Banda seas, between the Philippines and Australia, north of Timor.
“In front we have the coastal line. The coastal line is getting thinner. Behind we have the mountains,” she told Xinhua earlier this week, explaining, “The ground is getting muddy.”
Walking along the beach, “the water is coming up, but high up in the mountains the rivers are drying up,” she said.
People have to go higher up in the mountains to get “good water,” Sahureka said.
Elders have told her “The sea level is rising and the land is sinking,” and if this continues “within about 10 or 20 years there will be nothing for our people.”
Sahureka said “This means that perhaps we will be forced to migrate or forced to leave and we don't know where to go to.”
“What will happen with something like the islands of Tuvalu (which) will sink in about 40 years. Then what about the nationals? Is it still Tuvalu?" she asked. “Where will the people go?”
“Will they go to Australia, for instance?” Sahureka asked. “There will be a community of Tuvalu in Australia but how will they be called? Still Tuvalus or are they still Australians? They will say they have their own country but how or when can they come back to the country when there is nothing because it has totally sunk."
The Saami people range from Russia, across the Lapland of Finland, Sweden and Norway.
Lars-Anders Baer is a member of the Saami parliament in Kiruna, Sweden. He is representing his people at the UN conference, held in the basement of UN Headquarters in New York. He said climate change is affecting the most traditional livelihood of a Saami, reindeer herding.
“It is getting wetter and warmer,” he told Xinhua, earlier this week, explaining reindeer in winter graze on lichen, even below soft snow poking as much as a meter down to get at it.
Because of rain, instead of dry snow, there often is a layer of ice covering the lichen, a ground hugging composition of fungal filaments and alga.
“If there is a lot of rain and wet weather it creates a layer of ice and this layer of ice makes it impossible for the reindeer to penetrate to the lichen,” he said.
Baer said “Climate change means that the autumn season is getting longer, it is snow-free longer. This means also an advantage for the reindeer. They can graze a longer time and it is less cold. When it is less cold they do not need to use so much energy. When you have a good summer and a long autumn the reindeer are quite fat because they are living primarily on the fat during the winter.”
But with climate change also comes conflict.
More animals and vegetation are moving north, into the traditional Saami areas, many of which have not been defined, he said.
“New plants are coming up. Tree line and new animals are coming up,” Baer said, adding the timber industry – “quite an important industry” -- and mining are moving north as land becomes more accessible.
“Lapland economic growth has been the fastest in those areas and that has to do with the minerals, the forest and the tourism business,” Baer said. “Minerals because the prices went up because they are exporting (iron ore) mainly to China.” Winter tourists go north for snow.
But it is not only iron ore that is being extracted, the parliamentarian said. Now gold is being mined from beneath the surface.
Above, the world's largest wind farm of 1,000 windmills is being mapped for northern Sweden. More people and infrastructure are being brought into the region along with the question of land rights, a thorny question for states, he said, and it increasingly is being answered in the courts……..PNS (ENDS)