By trying to scuttle the Kyoto Protocol and prevent the adoption globally of "stringent targets" to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, the federal government is abandoning the peoples of the circumpolar Arctic -- particularly Inuit whose hunting and food-sharing culture is being pushed to destruction by climate change. Further, this misguided position will weaken Canada's claim to Arctic sovereignty and severely erode its international credibility.
In November of 2004, the eight Arctic states, including Canada and the United States, endorsed the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA). Prepared over four years by more than 300 scientists from 15 countries and Arctic indigenous peoples, the assessment said human-induced climate change in the Arctic is happening now and is accelerating with serious social, cultural, health, environmental and economic consequences. Contingency plans are already in place to relocate some Inuit communities in Alaska and elsewhere in the face of climate change. Thinning and ablation of sea ice and the projected extinction of some marine mammals led the assessment to foretell the end of Inuit as a hunting and food-sharing culture.
How would you respond if you knew that deep cuts to greenhouse-gas emissions -- as recommended by the overwhelming majority of the world's climate scientists and affirmed by the observations of our hunters and traditional scientists -- were essential to the future of your ancient culture and very way of life? Canada's negotiators at the global climate-change talks this month in Bonn are operating under instructions that "Canada will not support . . . agreement on language . . . that commits developed countries to more stringent targets in the future . . ." This effectively abandons northern Canada -- the three territories and the northern portions of some provinces -- to the projections of the ACIA. It also willfully ignores the message from the Arctic, the planet's barometer for climate change.
Last December, 62 Inuit from Alaska and northern Canada joined me in a human-rights action to the Washington-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. We seek a declaration that destruction of the Arctic environment and the culture of Inuit through greenhouse-gas emissions from the United States, which has refused to join the community of nations on this issue, amounts to a violation of the human rights of Inuit.
We have not asked for and do not want compensation. We want the United States to adopt mandatory limits on its emissions of greenhouse gases. As well, we want the U.S. government to help us adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change.
We did not target Canada. Although Canada's 2005 climate-change plan -- Honouring Our Kyoto Commitment -- was late and weak, it was a start. Just as important, it allowed Canada to engage the developed and developing worlds on an issue that can only be addressed globally. Now, where do we stand? Should we include Canada in our human-rights action? Do we have any real choice?
Our hunting culture, based on the snow and ice, shows that climate change in the Arctic is a family issue, a community issue, and a cultural issue. Our human-rights action shows that climate change in the Arctic is also clearly a human- rights issue. We have asked the commission to come to northern Canada and Alaska and hold hearings on the effects of climate change on Inuit.
Inuit have always engaged in the politics of influence, not the politics of protest, and we always try to bring people together, not pull them apart. But recent decisions by the federal government call for new responses. We are deeply concerned that Ottawa has taken this position -- divisive at home as well as internationally -- at a time when Environment Minister Rona Ambrose is chairing global climate-change negotiations.
Ottawa's foreign policy on climate change must support -- not erode -- Canada's sovereignty in the North and reflect -- not ignore -- the Arctic, the region of Canada most directly and negatively affected by this global challenge.
Sheila Watt-Cloutier, the elected chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, is a UN Champion
of the Earth and received the International Environment and Development Sophie Prize. She is
to receive the Canadian Environmental Award Citation of Lifetime Achievement on June 5, and the Earth Day International Environmental Award on June 8.