Obama, Trudeau pledge partnership on climate change, energy, Arctic
Partnership "sends an incredibly strong signal to Inuit in northern communities"
(Updated 12:30 p.m., March 12)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Barack Obama say they will make climate change and the long-term health of the Arctic environment and its people a priority as they work together on implementing their commitments under last December’s COP21 agreement on climate change.
“Canada and the U.S. will continue to respect and promote the rights of Indigenous peoples in all climate change decision making,” the two leaders said in a joint statement that coincided with Trudeau’s official visit to Washington March 10.
That included a joint U.S.-Canada commitment to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 per cent below 2012 levels by 2025 and to look at other ways of reducing methane emissions.
Methane is regarded a major climate change “forcer” that accelerates global warming in the Arctic. Though a given quantity of methane will disappear from the atmosphere in about 12 years, its warming effect is estimated to be 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas.
The two leaders announced a “shared Arctic leadership” strategy during Trudeau’s March 10 visit to the White House — the first official visit by a Canadian prime minister in 19 years.
Canada and the U.S. also used the March 10 meeting to re-affirm their national goals of protecting at least 17 per cent of Arctic land areas and 10 per cent of marine areas by 2020.
And they pledged to build a sustainable Arctic economy.
“We confirm that for commercial activities in the Arctic — including shipping, fishing, and oil and gas exploration and development — we will set a world-class standard by basing development decisions and operations on scientific evidence,” said the joint statement.
Their March 10 statement says science will include traditional Indigenous knowledge and incorporate that knowledge into decision-making.
The partnership was largely welcomed by Arctic leaders and environmental organizations.
From Washington D.C., Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo tweeted that it was great to see a “new Arctic leadership model,” a theme picked up by Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna.
“The Arctic is on the front lines of climate change,” said Taptuna in a March 10 statement.
“I look forward to working with all partners and governments to address the realities of climate change in the North.”
Praise for the joint statement also came from Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, who visited Washington D.C. March 10 to attend a lunch hosted by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry after the statement’s release.
Obed said ITK helped to draft the Indigenous-specific and Arctic-specific sections of the statement.
“We feel that it is a step forward in the articulation of our place within the Canadian state and also that the U.S. feels the same way about its Indigenous people in order to include statements such as the link to sovereignty or the implementation of land claims deals or our socio-economic condition, that are front and centre in the document,” Obed told Nunatsiaq News in a March 11 interview.
“I consider these things very positive,” Obed said.
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. President Cathy Towtongie said she welcomed the joint statement in a March 11 statement from NTI.
“It is heartening to see President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau commit themselves to an active and energetic agenda addressing climate change and other pressing environmental issues” said Towtongie. “We recognize many of the agenda items are related to the Arctic, and also related to Arctic resources development, social and cultural development, and governance concerns.”
But Inuit should have been consulted about the joint statement beforehand, Jimmy Stotts, the president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, pointed out in a March 11 statement.
“We are dismayed that Inuit were not consulted,” he said. “The United States Arctic Policy requires consultation with Inuit. However the attention to the Arctic and issues that matter to Inuit is appreciated. Moving forward, we must be meaningfully engaged in decisions that affect us.”
Louie Porta, policy director with the Pew Charitable Trust’s Oceans North Canada, said the statement draws considerable global attention to the Arctic region and the Inuit who live there.
“This has never happened before,” Porta said.
“Giving the Arctic this type of stage for its issues and its peoples to resonate, not just in our country but around the world, I think should ultimately send an incredibly strong signal to Inuit in northern communities that the Arctic is really significant and a top priority for this government,” he said.
“And that should translate into concrete action.”
For broader issues, like shipping, fisheries and offshore oil and gas, Porta encouraged both governments to include a place at the table for Inuit leadership “to produce and guide those policies.”
World Wildlife Fund-Canada also welcomed the news that Canada and the U.S. plan to address the risks posed by heavy fuel oil use and black carbon emissions from shipping.
“In addition to reaffirming land and marine protection promises, the commitment to implementing shipping practices that are sensitive to ecological and cultural concerns and reducing the use of heavy fuel oil in marine transport will help protect the Arctic Ocean and the marine mammals on which Northern communities depend,” said WWF-Canada’s president and CEO David Miller.
“These are important commitments to slow climate change and protect the Arctic, a region where the impacts of more extreme weather patterns are being felt most severely.”
— with files from Sarah Rogers, Jane George and Jim Bell