Associated Press Writer
UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Indigenous people around the world are particularly vulnerable to the dangers of climate change, which will threaten their traditional cultures as glaciers melt, ocean temperatures increase and coral reefs disappear, panel members said at a U.N. discussion of biodiversity.
The loss of biodiversity to climate change will hit indigenous people hardest, John Scott, Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity said Tuesday.
"Indigenous and local communities ... will bear the brunt of this catastrophe because of their close association with their lands and waters," said Scott said.
The panel marking the U.N.'s International Biodiversity Day included a reindeer herder from Norway and members of indigenous groups from Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Hindu Kush mountain range that straddles the Pakistan-Afghan border.
Panelists spoke of melting glaciers, rising ocean temperatures, avalanches, and the depletion of coral reefs as devastating to their social and cultural traditions.
Lakshan Bibi, of the Hindu Kush, said her people were affected by the air traffic from recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which had greatly increased pollution in the area.
A draft report circulated in April by the convention focused on the negative effects of climate change on indigenous people in the Arctic region, small island states, and high-altitude areas, and recommended further research.
The report also recommends, however, that the environmental knowledge of indigenous people be used to help mitigate the negative effects of climate change. Scott said that indigenous farmers in the Andes mountains in Peru have introduced potatoes that can withstand drought, frost and other extreme weather conditions.
"Traditional knowledge of indigenous and local communities can play an important role in adaptation to climate change and its potential has yet to be fully explored," said Scott.
Roberto Borrero, of the Taino people in Puerto Rico, said that traditional-minded people have closer relationships to nature and more respect for the environment.
"I don't think it was an indigenous person who created pesticides, nuclear bombs or anything else of a destructive nature," said Borrero. "We need somebody with a traditional mind and attitude, or somebody who respects their environment as equally as they do their family."