Open letter to Leona Aglukkaq from McGill climate research group
"Many of these health challenges are being exacerbated by climate change"
As Canada takes over chair of the Arctic Council, we, of the Climate Change Adaptation Research Group at McGill University in Montreal would like to take the opportunity to outline some of our most pressing concerns with regard to the Arctic Council’s mandate of environmental, social, and economic development of the circumpolar region.
Canadian leadership of the Arctic Council is an opportunity to showcase the tremendous potential of the Canadian North; it is also an opportunity to examine ourselves, as Canadians and as a country with a proud and enduring northern culture, for the purposes of reflection and change.
We tender this letter as researchers, but more importantly, as Canadians with deep and abiding respect for the Arctic and its residents.
As researchers focused on the human dimensions of, and adaptation to, climate change, our work has taken us across the Canadian Arctic and it has become apparent to us that there are vital issues facing northern communities that must be examined.
Our recommendations are rooted in our knowledge of climate change, our understanding of the current and future impacts of these changes, and our relationships and partnerships with Inuit across Canada’s polar regions.
As Canadians, we feel it is particularly important that your leadership of the Arctic Council be based on an understanding of the realities and impacts of climate change in the North, and on an appreciation of the rapid changes in temperature, snowfall patterns, and sea ice extent throughout the Canadian and circumpolar regions.
While the current and projected impacts of these changes are many and varied, and are affecting people throughout the circumpolar North, we would like to direct your attention, and that of the Arctic Council, towards three key issues and the increased opportunities to address these issues that arise from economic development.
First, food security – which involves availability of and access to nutritious country and market food – is a central and current concern.
Temporal and geographic challenges, and consequent prohibitive costs have limited the quality and quantity of nutritious market foods available in northern communities. Furthermore, unpredictable weather and environmental changes have exacerbated existing economic barriers such as the price of fuel, and reduced individuals’ and households’ ability to obtain country food.
As climate change and economic factors continue to shape the North and the health of its people, we ask that you develop a multidimensional strategy to actively ensure that communities have the means and opportunities to secure quality and nutritious country and market foods.
Closely connected to questions of food security are the many challenges being faced by Inuit and other circumpolar indigenous people in terms of community health. Inuit across the Canadian North experience greater disparities it health and lower access to health-sustaining resources when compared to the Canadian average.
Many of these health challenges are being exacerbated by climate change, compounding already-stressed health care systems in the North. Leadership should start at home, and as such, we urge you to both consider and address these challenges, setting an example for other Arctic nations.
Finally, we would also like to emphasize the importance of engaging youth in Arctic Council discussions, ensuring meaningful engagement, consultation, and involvement of youth as key stakeholders in discussions and decision-making.
Over half of Canadian Inuit are under the age of 24, and youth populations in other circumpolar countries are rapidly growing as well. These young people hold a wealth of lived experience, a rich knowledge base, and creative ideas that are needed in policy.
Youth across the Arctic have demonstrated their willingness to participate in the climate change research and policy that will dictate their future; they must be given a seat at the table.
In summary, as chair of the Arctic Council and Canada’s voice on the international circumpolar stage, we urge you to:
1. Prioritize the achievement of sustainable food security for circumpolar Inuit and other indigenous and non-indigenous groups with increased investment and focus on food acquired through traditional means such as hunting and fishing and initiatives to decrease the costs and increase the nutritional content of available market food.
2. Recognize the impact of policy decisions on the health of communities, and consider health as encompassing all aspects of the mental, physical and social wellbeing of Arctic communities and peoples.
3. Ensure meaningful engagement and involvement of youth representatives who speak for the younger generation and future generations that will bear the benefits and consequences of decisions made today.
We have chosen to circulate this letter to you openly as we feel that issues of food security, community health, and youth engagement are being sidelined by discussion about how best to open the Arctic to resource development when these issues are in fact deeply interconnected.
Climatic and environmental changes are bringing unprecedented changes in the circumpolar regions, and opening new frontiers to possible resource extraction.
But, making resource development a priority ahead of the health and living conditions of Arctic Canadians is not only unsustainable, it is potentially damaging to the health and well-being of northern residents and consequently to the future of northern Canada as a whole.
We would be delighted to discuss these issues with you further or provide you with more information.
Dr. James Ford
Department of Geography, McGill University
Dr. George Wenzel
Department of Geography, McGill University
Climate Change Adaptation Research Group Members:
Dr. Ashlee Cunsolo Willox
Joanna Petrasek MacDonald
Knut Tjensvoll Kitching
Climate Change Adaptation Research Group Website: http://www.jamesford.ca
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