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Interior Secretary Jewell Talks Indian Country Climate Resilience at COP21

United States Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell lead a panel discussion kicking off the 21st Conference of Parties.
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United States Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell lead a panel discussion kicking off the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) on initiatives the U.S. is working on to help prepare communities and the ecosystems they depend on for the impacts of climate change.

“When I stepped into the public sector and took this job, addressing the issue of climate change was one of my highest priorities. I am very proud to work for President Obama, who has taken historic action on climate change,” Jewell said in her speech.

Jewell mentioned two things that are known about climate change: “One is, no country is immune to its impacts – although we've got some examples that are pretty dramatic up here. But also, no country can solve climate change on its own.” She went on to say that global action was needed to reduce carbon emissions, along with working collectively to build climate resilience – the topic of the panel.

“When you think about the term ‘climate resilience,’ resilience means, really, the power or ability to recover after being disturbed. I think it's very evident to the people in this room that we have disturbed our planet in a pretty profound way,” Jewell said. “Also, resilience is a term that is realistic and acknowledges that climate change impacts are happening. It also is a hopeful term. It's rooted in the concept that we can do something about the impacts to make our communities and our ecosystems stronger.”

During her speech, Jewell highlighted work within Indian country as examples of what the U.S. is doing to improve climate change within communities.

Jewell first discussed the work to “honor and capture” the “knowledge to strengthen our understanding of ecosystems and climate change.” She referred to the Alaskan Native Tribal Health Consortium’s Local Environmental Observer Network as an example.

“It's a way for individuals, communities in Alaska to record abnormal events and trends. Like, where are the caribou migrating? What's going on with the weather? How is the permafrost melting? What's happening with the berries? What's going on with insects? We're seeing insect patterns change that are bringing disease, and really changing very much the health impacts in many areas,” Jewell said.

She said the LEO, along with engaging citizen science is making a huge difference while the government continues to learn from it and hopes to expand throughout the rest of North America and even Europe.

The secretary then discussed the working relationship with American Indian tribes and Alaska Natives across Turtle Island on seed funding. This funding will allow tribes to begin their own climate resilience programs on tribal lands and reservations. The most recent grants went to Alaska Native villages.

Jewell took the opportunity at COP21 to announce a public-private partnership. The partnership focuses on forests and brings the strength of global supply chains together with strong government commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. She also participated in a roundtable hosted by French President François Hollande with African heads of state to discuss renewable energy and climate adaptation in Africa.