Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
The fate of the Arctic environment is no longer solely an Arctic issue. The Arctic and the global environment have never before been so interdependent. Growing demands for oil, gas, minerals and timber in other parts of the world are increasing exploration pressures in the Arctic, and pollutants from all over the planet are accumulating in Arctic food chains and indigenous peoples. At the same time these peoples face the effects of climate change, changes that may produce severe impacts on the rest of the world through increases in sea level from receding sea ice and glaciers, along with changes in sea currents dependent upon the Arctic cycles. These impacts include changing weather patterns and agricultural production for numerous nations around the globe. The very existence of some island nations may be at risk from floods. Climate change also threatens our ability to meet the Millennium goals on the eradication of poverty, the safe and sufficient supply of drinking water, and on limiting the spread of disease.
UNEP particularly welcomes the coming into force of the Kyoto protocol on February 16th, which will, we hope, provide a turning point in our efforts to effectively combat climate change. This report also shows us that the Arctic holds a unique global heritage: the last continuous undeveloped and unexploited coastal and marine areas. These areas are the lifeblood of Arctic peoples and animals, and they cannot resist the cumulative impacts of all potential pressures. While conservation efforts on land have been significant in some areas, less than one percent of the coastal zones and marine areas have been protected. The coming decade may be our last chance to preserve this global heritage, of which no equivalent remains anywhere on this planet and which is so crucial to Arctic peoples and life. By protecting these areas, we help increase their resilience against inevitable climate change and help support indigenous peoples’ right to make their own decisions on the future of the region.
Arctic governments have a special responsibility to protect the Arctic coastal and marine areas, not only because of their intrinsic value to Arctic ecosystems and Arctic indigenous peoples’ livelihoods, but also because they form the only such major intact areas remaining on this planet.
A word from Sheila Watt-Cloutier
Chair, Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC)
To many environmental organizations the Arctic is “wilderness” to be preserved. To industry it is a “frontier” and a source of energy and minerals to be exploited. But to the 155,000 Inuit living in Canada, Alaska, Greenland and Chukotka in Russia the Arctic is “home” with all that this implies. The same is true for Sami, Athabascans, Gwich’in, Aleuts, and Arctic Indigenous peoples in northern Russia.
Through the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), Inuit have worked on the international stage for nearly 30 years. The last 15 years has been particularly exciting, for the circumpolar world is taking on many of the features of a geopolitical region. All Arctic Indigenous peoples are committed to protecting our region’s natural environment and enhancing our age-old cultures. In 2003, UNEP’s governing council passed a resolution to promote sustainable development in the Arctic. This is important for the Arctic is the world’s “barometer” when it comes to global climate change. ICC welcomes the interest and engagement of UNEP in the Arctic and looks forward to close co-operation with UNEP in coming years.
ICC welcomes this report as an acknowledgement of the rights and interests of Arctic Indigenous peoples and the need to protect and manage the natural resources upon which they so closely depend.