Thursday, December 08, 2005
WASHINGTON ACCUSED OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS AT GLOBAL WARMING CONFERENCE
Pointing out that rising seas and more frequent and severe storms are threatening the livelihoods of indigenous groups in the Arctic and small tropical island states, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, stated at the launch of a project Tuesday to help Arctic communities and mostly Pacific island states adapt to climate change, "These are the two most vulnerable regions to climate change.”
She said evidence of a warming planet was stark and compelling and the cultures of the Arctic and island nations were at risk, adding that promoting adaptation was urgent. "As we melt, the small developing island states sink," she told a news conference in Montreal, where about 190 nations are meeting to try to find ways to curb the emission of greenhouse gases released from burning fossil fuels.
In many Pacific island states, rising sea levels are causing chaos, said Taito Nakalevu of the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme, an organization established by Pacific governments. "Climate change has an impact on almost all aspects of our lives," he said. "Most of our rural communities are still very dependent on natural resources, such as fisheries, agriculture and forestry. But because of climate change, these resources are becoming scarce."
In the low-lying Pacific state of Tuvalu, a cluster of atolls no more than 16.5 feet above sea level, so-called king tides are becoming unusually powerful, swamping large areas, causing beach erosion, flooding of crops and homes.
In some areas, rising salinity has meant crops can no longer be grown, Nakalevu said. King tides are often whipped up by cyclones.
“The problem now was how to protect people's livelihoods and cultures. Some would be forced to move to other islands, while others would have to adapt,” he added. “ If they can't, some cultures could be wiped out. “
In the arctic, the situation is no better.
"Climate change is destroying our environment and eroding our culture," Watt-Cloutier said on the sidelines of a 189-nation meeting in Montreal, Canada, on ways to fight global warming.
Inuit indigenous peoples formally accused Washington on Wednesday of violating their human rights by failing to do enough to fight a thaw of Arctic ice undermining their hunting culture.
In a groundbreaking case, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, which represents about 155,000 people in Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Russia, filed a petition to a commission of the Organization of American States that said climate change was tantamount to human rights abuse. (See Press Release Below)
Environmentalists said the petition broke new ground as a cross-border attempt to address climate change. Some Pacific island states, threatened by rising seas, have threatened lawsuits against the United States. Lawyers say such a case would be extremely costly and very hard to win.
For Immediate Release: December 7, 2005
Inuit Petition Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to Oppose Climate Change Caused by the United States of America
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.).
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.”
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.” Sources: the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, San Diego Union Tribune, TVNZ (New Zealand)