PARIS (December 6, 2015) –Robert Redford and indigenous artists, activists and storytellers from across the globe took the stage today during the international climate talks in Paris at UNESCO to share captivating stories about precious places threatened by climate change that must be saved before it's too late.
Redford, actor, producer, environmental activist and trustee of NRDC, joined Rhea Suh, NRDC’s President; Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO; Douglas Nakashima, Chief of Section on Small Islands and Indigenous Knowledge at UNESCO; Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, Poet/Activist, Marshall Islands; Mundiya Kepanga, Papuan traditional leader, Papua New-Guinea; and Mina Setra, Deputy Secretary General of AMAN (Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago), Jakarta, Indonesia for the afternoon of storytelling held at UNESCO headquarters in Paris.
They came together at UNESCO’s headquarters united by the belief that climate change is a global crisis and saving the people and places we love is what can fire the world’s determination to overcome it. In the audience were hundreds of young people, a key focus of UNESCO’s work around the world.
Robert Redford said telling stories is a core of what he’s done for decades and he’s also worked to support other storytellers, which brought him to join the afternoon discussion in Paris.
“I wanted to draw attention to indigenous cultures and their values and why we need to pay attention to them and why we need to recognize how vulnerable they are right now because of climate change,” Redford said “They’re probably the most vulnerable of all. You can see what’s happening in the Marshall Islands.
“I think we need to draw attention to those people that are the most vulnerable that need the help now, and fast. Time has run out for talking. It’s time for action…Who is going to know more about what the threat is than the people who are threatened?”
Rhea Suh, who moderated the discussion, said she was deeply moved by the stories she heard. “Ultimately, this is about people, all over the world, whose lands, homes and very lives are imperiled, people who are standing up every day to the frontline ravages of climate change,” she said. “If we’re going to craft meaningful solutions to the climate crisis, we must listen to the voices and hear the stories of people already living at disaster’s doorstep. It’s really the intention of this forum to amplify these voices.”
Irina Bokova spoke of the need to hear the stories of individuals and communities affected by climate change in order fully understand how great the need is to act. “When we speak about climate we speak about humanity. Humanity is not apart from the world. We all need to stand together.”
Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a spoken word poet, read a poem and said she became an activist on climate change after moving back home to the Marshall Islands after going to school away and seeing rising waters. “Our island is basically at ground zero for climate change,” she said. “We are definitely vulnerable victims at the front lines. When I moved back I saw how huge the ocean is and how small we are. We are working to mobilize youth all over the world about climate change. This is our way of fighting for our survival because our islands are so vulnerable.”
Mundiya Kepanga, who wore traditional dress from Papua New-Guinea, spoke about the forests in his home being destroyed by commercial logging and how the changing climate is threatening the raising of food. He told of a prophecy from his ancestors that his people ignored—that to be wary of those who would come to deforest their land. “So we did not listen to our ancestors and we are paying dearly for climate change,” he said. “My forest is not mine. It’s yours as well. If we vanish we vanish together.”
And Mina Setra spoke of a lovely river in her country destroyed by a commercial plantation and that the needs of indigenous people must be acknowledged in the final climate agreement, but as of Sunday they were not well enough. “Please put back the rights of indigenous people. That is really important to us. Any agreement on climate change has to reflect the rights of indigenous people. They are the ones that protect the forests and the land.”
To read Rhea Suh's Paris Digest on today's event, click here: http://on.nrdc.org/parisjournal
TO DOWNLOAD PHOTOS FROM TODAY’S EVENT: http://on.nrdc.org/redfordunescopix
Photo 1: NRDC President Rhea Suh and Robert Redford
Photo 2: Robert Redford
Photo 3: Redford’s wife, Sibylle Redford, Robert Redford, Mundiya Kepanga, Mina Setra, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, Rhea Suh