A changing climate threatens the Inuit

A number of life altering changes has happened over the last years to Inuit societies. Changes explained only by the changes in weather patterns. The 155,000 Inuit in northern Canada, Alaska, Greenland and Chukotka in the far east of Russia have suddenly – in terms of nature’s time scales – been forced to reconsider their traditional life styles. Ways of life that have allowed the Inuit to survive for hundreds of years in what is for most people a harsh environment are now threatened by changes induced by humans far south of the areas where the Inuit live. “The human rights of the Inuit to decide their own life style and habitat have been threatened as a cause of these changes in nature,” says Sheila Watt-Cloutier, elected Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (icc), representing the rights of the Inuit.“Talk to hunters across the North and they will tell you the same story, the weather is increasingly unpredictable. The look and feel of the land is different. The sea-ice is changing. Hunters are having difficulty navigating and travelling safely. We have even lost experienced hunters through the ice in areas that, traditionally, were safe. The melting of our glaciers in summer is now such that it is dangerous for us to get to many of our traditional hunting and harvesting places,” says Watt-Cloutier. By Grid-Arendal and icc (Inuit Circumpolar Conference)

“For generations uncounted, Inuit have observed the environment and have accurately predicted the weather enabling them to travel safely on the sea-ice and hunt seals, whales, walrus, and polar bears. Inuit do not hunt for sport or recreation. Hunters put food on the table. People further south on the globe go to the supermarket, Inuit go on the sea-ice. Eating what Inuit hunt is at the very core of what it means to be Inuit. When they can no longer hunt what is on the sea-ice their entire existence as a people is threatened,” Watt-Cloutier points out.

The icc has collected documentation from different Inuit communities that all tell the same story of changes to their environment. The residents of Sachs Harbour, a tiny community in the Canadian Beaufort Sea region, have reported that melting permafrost cause beach slumping and increased erosion. They see increased snowfall, longer sea-ice free seasons, and have observed new species of fish and birds like the barn owl, robins, pin-tailed ducks and salmon. They have also had an invasion of mosquitoes and black flies. Alaskan Inuit report that their natural ice cellars in which they store food are melting.

“Plans are well under way to relocate certain communities if need be. Climate change is not just a theory to us in the Arctic, it is a stark and dangerous reality. Human-induced climate change is undermining the ecosystem upon which Inuit depend for their cultural survival. The Arctic is not wilderness or a frontier, it is our home,” says Watt-Cloutier.

The eight Arctic states; Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Canada, Russia and the us account for 40 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions; the gases believed to be provoking climate change. In several international forums discussions and negotiations about reducing greenhouse gas emissions are taking place. One of these forums is the Convention of the Parties under the Kyoto Protocol, established by the United Nations Convention on Climate Change to curb climate change.

A year ago the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Pro 1617gramme (unep) passed a resolution calling for increased environmental monitoring in the Arctic. This decision was also based on the increasing amount of international research suggesting that what happens in the Arctic will later happen in the rest of the world. You can, so to speak, take the pulse of the world in the Arctic.

“Responding to climate change has split the nations of the world. Our plight shows the compelling case for global unity and clarity of purpose to forestall a future that is not ordained. These dramatic changes to our environment and our climate will bring about the end of the Inuit culture,” says Watt-Cloutier.

The Inuit Circumpolar Conference represents the Inuit, the Arctic people living in Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Russia. The icc holds consultative status to the un Economic and Social Council and is involved in many areas of various international forums. www.inuitcircumpolar.com.

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