Alaska Native leaders attend COP28 with a focus on local impacts of climate change

As permafrost thaws, Kongiganak’s cemetery is turning into swampland. (Photo Teresa Cotsirilos/KYUK)

The 28th installment of the annual United Nations climate change conference, known as the Conference of the Parties or COP28, wraps up in Dubai on Tuesday.

The conference is a place for global leaders to do policy work on addressing climate change, and for climate advocates from all over the world – including Alaska – to share their ideas and experiences.

Jackie Schaeffer, director of climate initiatives at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, got back from Dubai last week, where she said over 100,000 people were in attendance.

“What I learned as a participant is that it’s really important to make sure that local communities and Indigenous voices are in those spaces,” Schaeffer said.

The Inuit Circumpolar Council nominated Schaeffer to attend COP28 to represent Alaska tribes. Schaeffer, who grew up in Kotzebue, gave talks on permafrost thaw and Indigenous leadership in the Arctic, as well as the loss and damage climate change has caused in Alaska. 

Schaeffer was also featured in a documentary that premiered this week at the conference called “Drum Song: The Rhythm of Life,” about Alaska Native communities adapting to climate change.

Kelly Moneymaker is an Iñupiat filmmaker and musician from Fairbanks who produced the documentary. She said it was meaningful to hear feedback from other people from around the world facing similar issues as a result of human-caused climate change. 

She said a delegation from Nigeria shared stories of coastal erosion that parallel climate-driven erosion issues in Alaska. 

“Their lives are very different than ours, but they know that with the loss of [sea] ice, the water content is now reaching them and the inundation is causing them to lose villages,” Moneymaker said.

Moneymaker said she was encouraged to see Indigenous representation from around the world at COP28. Both she and Schaeffer said she’d like to see more representation from the U.S. in the future, especially at the policy negotiation table. 

Kavitha George is Alaska Public Media’s climate change reporter. Reach her at Read more about Kavitha here.

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