“Those who are most impoverished, most marginalised and whose rights are least respected are also those who depend most on their environment for subsistence,” Leape said. Those “deep in forests, on the fringes of floodplains or shores of coral seas” are among those who will suffer most from climate change, he said, adding that they also have the least power in international negotiations and will need the most support ahead of December’s Copenhagen Climate Conference.
Action taken now to preserve, repair and restore the functioning of forests, water catchments and coasts, Leape said, will best help to protect those areas and their people from climate-change impacts in the future.
“We have seen this most graphically, if tragically, in the case of disasters,” he noted. “The communities conserving their mangroves and inshore reefs are those that have suffered least in the past from waves and storms and will suffer least from the more severe and more frequent storms to come. It is the rivers with functioning wetlands that best absorb floods and have the reserves needed in dry spells.”
In the forthcoming climate negotiations, Leape said, the leaders of the world’s most powerful countries — in the Group of 20 (G20) and the Group of Eight (G8) — need to commit to approaches that recognise the rights of indigenous peoples and forest communities.
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