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Opinion Climate change is eroding Inuit society. We’ve come up with our own plan to combat it

Natan Obed is president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national representational organization for Inuit.

Storm surges bring the full force of the Arctic Ocean splashing against houses lining the shores of Tuktoyaktuk, in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region of the Northwest Territories. Across our homeland, Inuit Nunangat, experienced hunters are falling through the ice on routes travelled by Inuit for generations. It’s not difficult to see that climate change is affecting our communities and our people in life-altering ways.

In the face of these changes, Inuit are prepared to take action to adapt and remain resilient. Earlier this month in Inuvik, we introduced a National Inuit Climate Change Strategy to help bring about transformative change to address climate risks while also addressing the social and economic inequities we face that are compounded by these risks.

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We seek meaningful partnerships as we look to the future and adapt to or mitigate impacts of a changing climate. Objectives contained in the strategy include shaping national climate policies to recognize the diversity of the climate realities in Inuit Nunangat and fostering opportunities for climate solutions that support resilient and sustainable Inuit communities.

Inuit are climate leaders, but we want to do better. Our 51 communities still rely on diesel generation for power. Sustainable energy solutions that are made and implemented in Inuit Nunangat demonstrate our commitment to a low-carbon society alongside Canadian and global commitments.

Dogs haul a sled through meltwater on coastal sea ice in northwest Greenland, June 13, 2019.

Steffen M. Olsen/The New York Times News Service

Climate change is having a particularly profound effect on Inuit health and well-being, as witnessed by the mounting pressure to relocate homes due to sea-level rise, coastal erosion and ice conditions whose unpredictability is putting lives at risk. Such shifts have a ripple effects on our livelihoods, local economies, and the learning and development of our youth as our food-sharing networks and our ability to teach our land-based knowledge, skills, values and language are tested. These activities lie at the core of our cultural identity. Through implementation of the National Inuit Climate Change Strategy, we aim to ensure that climate-adaptation policies are informed by Inuit-specific health and wellness considerations.

We are also concerned about our infrastructure. Profound gaps in infrastructure exist throughout Inuit Nunangat, and the limited infrastructure that does exist is being negatively impacted by the thawing permafrost and other climate-related concerns. The strategy seeks partnerships to assess the climate-vulnerability of built and natural infrastructure across Inuit Nunangat and create incentives for resilient new builds and retrofits, as well as to map climate hazards and needs.

Inuit have galvanized awareness globally about the environmental impacts of climate change in our homeland. For those of us experiencing these changes, it means that our way of life is being undermined as well. Even if global emissions are stabilized at the Paris Agreement goal of limiting temperature increases to less than 2 C above preindustrial levels, our homelands are already locked into the impacts of past and current emissions for at least 30 years. This means an erosion of our culture and identity alongside the loss of our land, livelihoods and life.

We are connected to Inuit Nunangat. As our climate changes, so does Inuit society. We will continue to adapt as we have for thousands of years, but we must also do whatever we can to mitigate the damage and prevent future destruction. We not only want to tell the world about the impacts, through a rights-based lens, we also plan to be leaders in the development of sustainable solutions.

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