Arctic Inuit sue U.S. government over global warming pollution
Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
December 8, 2005
A group of people living in the Arctic have filed a lawsuit against the US government, claiming its climate change policies violate their human rights. The Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC) says that by failing to control emissions of greenhouse gases, the US is damaging the livelihoods those living in the Arctic. The group has filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights demanding that the US limit its emissions.
The legal complaint comes as research shows the Arctic is warming at rates about twice the global average. NASA has found continual declines in sea ice in the Arctic region, while glaciers in Alaska are melting at alarming rates.
The Inuit are a group of indigenous peoples inhabiting the Arctic coasts of Siberia, Alaska, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Québec, Labrador and Greenland. Many still make their living by fishing and hunting.
The Inuit Circumpolar Conference press release announcing the petition follows below.
Inuit Petition Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to Oppose Climate Change Caused by the United States of America
Inuit Circumpolar Conference release
MONTREAL – Ms. Sheila Watt-Cloutier, the elected Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), today submitted a petition to the Washington DC-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights seeking relief from violations of the human rights of Inuit resulting from global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions from the United States of America. The Commission, which was created in 1959 by the Organization of American States, has a long and distinguished history of protecting human rights, particularly those of indigenous peoples. The full text of the petition is available at www.inuitcircumpolar.com.
Ms. Watt-Cloutier spoke at a side event at the 11th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. She was joined by Dr. Robert Corell, Chair of the recently completed Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), Dr. James Anaya, an aboriginal human rights lawyer at the University of Arizona, and Mr. Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, Minister of Environment and Energy of the Government of Costa Rica.
Drawing upon the traditional knowledge of hunters and elders and wide-ranging peer reviewed science, the 163-page petition is supported by testimony from 63 named Inuit from northern Canada and Alaska. The petition documents existing, ongoing, and projected destruction of the Arctic environment and the culture and hunting-based economy of Inuit caused by global warming.
The November 2004 ACIA (available at www.acia.uaf.edu) prepared over a four-year period by more than 300 scientists from 15 countries and six Indigenous peoples organizations concluded:
The Arctic is extremely vulnerable to observed and projected climate change and its impacts. The Arctic is now experiencing some of the most rapid and severe climate change on earth. Over the next 100 years, climate change is expected to accelerate, contributing to major physical, ecological, social and economic changes, many of which have already begun. Changes in arctic climate will also affect the rest of the world through increased global warming and rising sea levels.
Dr. Corell stressed two key conclusions of the ACIA, “Marine species dependent on sea ice, including polar bears, ice-living seals, walrus, and some marine birds are very likely to decline, with some species facing extinction; and
“For Inuit, warming is likely to disrupt or even destroy their hunting and food-sharing culture as reduced sea ice causes the animals on which they depend to decline, become less accessible, and possibly become extinct.”
Alaska’s rapidly disintegrating Columbia Glacier, which has shrunk in length by 9 miles since 1980, has reached the mid-point of its projected retreat, according to a new University of Colorado at Boulder study.
Researchers from NASA, the National Snow and Ice Data Center and others using satellite data have detected a significant loss in Arctic sea ice this year. On Sept. 21, 2005, sea ice extent dropped to 2.05 million sq. miles, the lowest extent yet recorded in the satellite record. Incorporating the 2005 minimum using satellite data going back to 1978, with a projection for ice growth in the last few days of this September, brings the estimated decline in Arctic sea ice to 8.5 percent per decade over the 27 year satellite record.
Decline of Arctic sea ice increases | September 29, 2005
For the fourth consecutive year, NSIDC and NASA scientists using satellite data have tracked a stunning reduction in arctic sea ice at the end of the northern summer. The persistence of near-record low extents leads the group to conclude that Arctic sea ice is likely on an accelerating, long-term decline.
Summers in arctic getting longer and hotter | September 23, 2005
Ms. Watt-Cloutier said, “Inuit are an ancient people. Our way of life is dependent on the natural environment and animals. Climate change is destroying our environment and eroding our culture. But we refuse to disappear. We will not become a footnote to globalization.
“Climate change is amplified in the Arctic. What is happening to us now will happen soon in the rest of the world. Our region is the globe’s climate change “barometer.” If you want to protect the planet, look to the Arctic and listen to what Inuit are saying.”
The petition focuses on the United States of America because it is by far the largest emitter of greenhouse gases and it refuses to join the international effort to reduce emissions. The petition asks the Commission to hold hearings in northern Canada and Alaska to investigate the harm caused to Inuit by global warming. Specifically, the petition asks the Commission to declare the United States of America in violation of rights affirmed in the 1948 American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and other instruments of international law.
The petition urges the commission to recommend that the United States adopt mandatory limits to its emissions of greenhouse gases and co-operate with the community of nations to “prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system,” the objective of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. As well, the petition requests the Commission declare that the United States of America has an obligation to work with Inuit to develop a plan to help Inuit adapt to unavoidable impacts of climate change, and to take into account the impact of its emissions on the Arctic and Inuit before approving all major government actions.
Dr. Anaya said, “The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has previously addressed human rights cases submitted by Indigenous peoples seeking to protect their environment and ways of life. The Inuit petition is an opportunity for the Commission to make a significant contribution to the further evolution of international human rights law.”
In conclusion, Ms. Watt-Cloutier said, “This petition is not about money, it is about encouraging the United States of America to join the world community to agree to deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions needed to protect the Arctic environment and Inuit culture and, ultimately, the world. We submit this petition not in a spirit of confrontation—that is not the Inuit way—but as a means of inviting and promoting dialogue with the United States of America within the context of the climate change convention. Our purpose is to educate not criticize, and to inform not condemn. I invite the United States of America to respond positively to our petition. As well, I invite governments and non-governmental organizations worldwide to support our petition and to never forget that, ultimately, climate change is a matter of human rights.”
This story includes a modified news release (“Inuit Petition Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to Oppose Climate Change Caused by the United States of America“) from the Inuit Circumpolar Conference.