ICC moves to patch up Inuit climate change rift
"There is a paradox of development among Inuit.”
COPENHAGEN — In an effort to patch up the rift between pro-and anti-development Inuit on how to respond to climate change, Inuit and other Arctic indigenous peoples put on a big show of unity Dec. 16 at Inuit and Arctic Indigenous Peoples Day.
There, inside the North Atlantic House in Copenhagen, Inuit from Canada, Alaska and Greenland vowed to work on reconciling economic development and the threat posed by global warming.
Inuit are united by their close relationship to the environment, emphasized Mary Simon, the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, who was in Copenhagen as an advisor to the Canadian negotiating team.
Inuit are also united by the abuses of the past, “the atrocities committed by our colonizers,” said Aqqaluk Lynge, the chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council.
There are also other points of agreement among Inuit, Lynge noted.
“We all agree that we deserve a good life. And we all agree that the Arctic and other vulnerable parts of the world are areas of special concern and should be treated as such by those wielding the most power,” Lynge said.
But, judging from what speakers from Alaska and Greenland said — and didn’t say — at the event, there’s still no clear-cut consensus on how to combine climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions and encourage Inuit development at the same time.
Jimmy Stotts, the chair of ICC, said there was a “misunderstanding” in his statement in a recorded interview with CBC radio reporter Patricia Bell Dec. 10 in which he said he wants Inuit-owned oil, gas and mining projects exempted from any new global agreement on cutting emissions.
Stotts said it is “ironic” that Inuit are now being told to scale back their industrial development when they did not contribute to global warming.
And he warned his fellow Inuit against forming alliances with environmental groups concerned with climate change, because their activities also undermine the traditional hunt of marine mammals like whales and seals.
Greenland’s premier, Kuupik Kleist, promised to beef up its renewable energy by building more hydroelectric projects, so that these projects will supply Greenland with 60 per cent or more of its power by 2020.
Kleist didn’t expand on the scope and impact of the new gas, oil and mining developments that Greenland also plans to develop.
Information about these projects was displayed upstairs in the North Atlantic House, as part of an exhibit called “In the eye of climate change.”
These displays show that oil and gas development will increase Greenland’s greenhouse gas emissions from 639,300 tonnes a year (about six times more than Nunavut produces annually) to 8.3 million tonnes a year by 2017.
Major mining projects will also add about 911,000 tonnes of emissions a year to Greenland’s output.
Any requirement to reduce emissions will “impede the development” of mineral development, says Greenland’s bureau of minerals and petroleum.
The revenue-sharing from oil and gas could amount to many billions of dollars, if Kleist’s comments to the Spanish daily newspaper El Pais Dec. 16 are true.
Kleist said Greenland has the second largest reserves of oil and gas after Saudi Arabia, which earns more than $150 billion dollars a year.
He also told El Pais that Greenland intends to develop, despite its probable contribution of fossil fuels to global warming.
But the message from Eva Aariak, the premier of Nunavut, at Inuit and Arctic Indigenous Day is that she wants the territory to be part of the solution, not part of the problem of global warming.
To do this, Nunavut needs more money to manage and pay for measures to limit the impacts of warming, she said, such as new, cleaner diesel generators for power supply in Nunavut.
This move would also support Canadian sovereignty, she said.
As for Lynge, he acknowledged that “there is a paradox of development” among Inuit.
“Those that are the most vulnerable, in particular indigenous peoples, are the ones that need sound sustainable development the most. And we are told by the colonizers and the developed part of the word we can’t,” he said.
But Lynge cautioned Inuit to plan carefully before they move ahead with development by basing it on sound environmental, social and cultural practices.
“I agree with Sheila Watt-Cloutier who says that we must be very careful as we move forward,” Lynge said. “But I equally agree with Premier Kuupik Kleist that we should not sit back and fall behind others as they improve the quality of their own lives by finding oil in our backyard, by fishing in our seas and taking shortcuts through our water channels.”
Lynge said he was more concerned with the loss of Inuit language, identity and “our own beautiful, wonderful way of living and moving forward through time, than I am with the possibility of being left behind the developed world and their increasing globalizing and conforming ways.”
“While I believe we Inuit have a moral right to develop as we see fit, I do not believe however that this translates into developing without throughout,” he said. “If we develop as the colonizers and polluters have done before us, without regard to our environment, we may have a moral argument to do so, but the approach will destroy us, and deny us the survival of our own Inuit culture.”
Global warming along with industrial development is already claiming victims in Russia’s Chukotka region, which is home to 1,200 Yup’ik Inuit.
There, Tatiana Achirgina, the chair ICC-Russia, spoke about higher storm surges and winds that recently toppled several houses into the ocean.
Changes in ice and currents have led to the deaths of hundreds and thousands of walrus, Achirgina said.
The projected start-up of 10 new mines in the region will add an additional stress to the environment, she said.