Image: Erosion along Alaska river
Al Grillo  /  AP
Newtok, Alaska, is among the indigenous villages seeing severe erosion, including this stretch along the Ninglick River.
updated 4/20/2009 12:08:38 PM ET 2009-04-20T16:08:38

Indigenous people from around the world are gathering in Anchorage this week for a conference on climate change, a subject participants say disproportionately affects them though they share relatively little responsibility for it.

Patricia Cochran, chairwoman of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, said the United Nations-affiliated conference intends to provide "a unified voice, to be able to have more influence over the political and other decisions that are being made that impact our communities."

About 400 people from 80 nations were expected to attend the Indigenous Peoples' Global Summit on Climate Change, where organizers will create a plan and demand that countries around the world include indigenous people as they respond to climate change.

Indigenous people who "have contributed the least to the global problem of climate change" are often "on the front lines" of the problem, said Cochran, whose group was hosting the summit. The council represents about 150,000 Inuit in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Chukotka in Russia.

Conference recommendations will be presented in December to the Conference of Parties at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen.

Organizers of the five-day summit said problems of climate change are threatening those who have lived on the same land for generations.

Stanley Tom, a conference delegate, said a river in his Alaskan hometown of Newtok has been eroding the earth under homes and has turned the tiny village into an island, and that other Alaskan villages were also facing erosion and flooding.

"The global warming is really strong," Tom said. "The whole village is sinking right now."

Summit co-sponsor Sam Johnston of Tokyo-based United Nations University said those living in Australia's Torres Strait Islands have similar problems because of rising sea levels, while southern Australia was experiencing the worst drought on record.

He said the drought was in an area of the country where much of Australia's fruit, vegetables and grains are grown, and it was "having a dramatic impact on everybody, including the indigenous people."

Organizers said indigenous groups can offer ways to reduce the effects of climate change because they have centuries of experience when it comes to adapting to harsh environments.

Johnston said Aborigines in northern Australia use traditional fire practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which has allowed them to sell $17 million worth of carbon credits to industries.

"Their traditional knowledge is very important," he said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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