SPECIAL REPORT: Live from Copenhagen, II

A series of on-the-scene snapshots from our reporter at the global climate conference

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In a series of special reports provided exclusively to BACKPACKER, Letitia Webster takes us inside the meetings currently underway at the global climate conference in Copenhagen. Letitia is the director of corporate sustainability and marketing for The North Face and one of the leading thinkers in the outdoor industry about reducing the carbon footprint of the products we play with outside. Our very own Berne Broudy, the usual author of this blog has worked extensively alongside Letitia on the industry’s sustainability panel. (Berne is on assignment in Laos until next week.)


As the Bella Center overflows and pressure builds on the attendees to come away with clear and meaningful results, a focus on the human side of climate change is coming to the forefront.

In a panel discussion today led by Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, a deeper look into how the current dialogue and potential policy will effect the human rights of indigenous cultures and developing nations played out to a packed house. According to the World Health Organization, more than 150,000 people die every year due to impacts of climate change; most come from already compromised populations that are living off the land day-to-day.

Amidst the heavy debates on adaption financing, it’s becoming increasingly clear not only that these groups will need financial support the most to weather climate change, but also that they are the ones that will see their livelihoods challenged most. Why does this matter? Because the change and disruption it will cause will likely create unrest–both regionally and globally–and lead to security issues for the US. What’s more, many of these people live in places where outdoor enthusiasts like us love to explore. These are often the communities that support your backpacking trip in Nepal, in the Andes or in Africa, they are the families of the guides. Based on some projections, for instance, Sherpas will be the hardest hit as the glaciers of the Himalaya melt, impacting both farming and trekking and climbing.

Developing strong policies around mitigation will help slow emissions, but could bring unintended consequences such as encouraging biofuels, which in theory are great. However, diverting farm fields from crop production to biofuels can create land scarcity for food production and could drive up the price of food. Hydropower, another great option, also has unintended consequences if not considered appropriately. It can divert water resources from entire communities, lead to decreased fish populations, and contribute to loss of flood plains.. all of these unintended consequences strike the lowest income and subsistence living communities around the world.

As the participants in Copenhagen negotiate the nuances of climate policy, it’s clear that we must take action–but equally obvious that we must embrace the communities around the places where we love to explore.

– Letitia Webster