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The congress, which was convened under the patronage of noted human rights barrister Cherie Blair and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, will develop guidelines for protecting human rights as the world's economies shift to deal with the current economic climate. In his address, Mr Leape stressed that action on climate change will not be effective unless it is also fair.

“We have a clear correlation between climate wrongs and human rights,” said Mr Leape.

“Those who are most impoverished, most marginalised and whose rights are least respected are also those who depend most on their environment for subsistence. Those deep in forests, on the fringes of floodplains or shores of coral seas count heavily among those who will suffer the most from climate change.”

Mr Leape explained that such people have the least power in international negotiations and will need to be supported in the run-up to the UN climate conference in December 2009. WWF is calling for a robust and fair UN agreement – ‘global deal’ – which sets out how the growing climate crisis will be tackled.

WWF action
Mr Leape said WWF's work in the field was highlighting that action taken now, in order to preserve, repair and restore the functioning of forests, water catchments and coasts, will help to best protect those areas and their people from climate change impacts in the future.  

“We have seen this most graphically, if tragically, in the case of disasters,” Mr Leape said. “The communities conserving their mangroves and inshore reefs are those that have suffered least in the past from waves and storms and will suffer least from the more severe and more frequent storms to come. It is the rivers with functioning wetlands that best absorb floods and have the reserves needed in dry spells.”

Mr Leape called on people to join with WWF in demanding that Copenhagen climate decision makers take bold action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the developed world, and provide robust funding to developing countries for low-carbon development, for reducing deforestation,and for climate change adaptation.  

The leaders of the world’s most powerful countries – in the G20 and the G8 – also need to commit to approaches that recognise the rights of indigenous peoples and forest communities during the forthcoming climate negotiations, Mr Leape said.

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