When the heads of states were delivering their speeches late last night and early this morning, I was reminded of the most touching moment in Copenhagen, when I watched the United Nations University film Indigenous Voices on Climate Change at the National Museum of Denmark. Those were the voices that touched my heart, with compelling local stories of the global problem, outside the Bella Center. 

 

Copenhagen International airport is decorated with advertisements that depict some world leaders, such as Spanish President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, in 2020, offering a belated apology for their failure to address climate change in 2009

Copenhagen International airport is decorated with advertisements that depict some world leaders, such as Spanish President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, in 2020, offering a belated apology for their failure to address climate change in 2009

I was shocked by the harsh reality faced by the indigenous people in the documentary film. People become victims of climate change in different regions of the world. Climate patterns are no longer predictable by the locals who have lived in the same places for many generations.  Droughts are more frequent and severe.  People walk a longer distance to find their hope for life. Animals migrate to adapt to climate change, but those that cannot go far, die – not only the vulnerable cows, the resilient zebras, as well.  People who depend on animals suffer from malnutrition, after the film showed a mother and her breastfeeding her baby both die. Little girls just “feel hopeless”…  I could not help being sentimental watching the film – although the languages and cultures were foreign, the human emotions were universal.  

 

After the film, I had a chance to meet Marilyn Wallace, one of the indigenous characters in the film. She told me how crucial “bubu” (“land”  in her  native aborigine language) meant to her.  “Bubu” is the source of life. When “bubu” is hit hard by climate change, animals and people cannot escape from their miserable destiny.

 The losses, especially lives and species, are irreversible.  They are, however, preventable, through mitigation, adaptation, financing, technology transfer, avoided deforestation, and capacity building. Among all, mitigation is the key. The difference between adaptation and mitigation is that the losses can be reduced to none with mitigation but not so with adaptation. As Saleem Huq, Climate Change Senior Fellow at International Institute for Environment and Development, remarked, “There is a limit to adaptation.” Adaptation is less effective with more global warming. Adaptation is not a substitute of mitigation!

Dear leaders, when you put various issues on the negotiation table, please take a moment to hear the voices of the perhaps less heard, to turn their vulnerabilities into strengths. COP15 is the place to, in the words of Michael Jackson, “heal the world. Make it a better place, for you and for me, and the entire human race.” We ask for vision and action in the “construction” of the new agreement: we need “architects” who dare to dream, and “structural engineers” who are capable of transforming the dream into reality, in a practical and effective manner.

As French President Nicholas Sarkozy said, we either change track now or we suffer disaster. Indeed, this is not a symposium on global warming – this is an alert to take action.

Climate change calls for consensus among parties despite differences in priorities. Ask not what the world can do for you – ask what you can do for the world. 

The last thing you want is the poster in CPH airport, depicting some world leader’s belated apology for the catastrophic failure in 2020.

Ting Lin is a PhD candidate in civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University. Her thesis will be on ground motion selection methodology for structural analysis and building design codes. She is a member of Worldwatch’s delegation in Copenhagen. 


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Climate Change, COP15, Copenhagen, indigenous people