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Arctic indigenous peoples slam US climate policy
REYKJAVIK (AFP) Nov 12, 2004
Arctic indigenous peoples on Friday blasted the United States' policy on climate change and accused Washington of thwarting efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are causing temperatures to rise in the Arctic at an alarming rate.

"The short-term economic policy of one country should not be able to trump the entire survival of one people," Sheila Watt-Cloutier, the chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, said at the end of an international meeting of researchers this week in Reykjavik on Arctic climate change.

In a report published just prior to the conference, a team of international scientists warned that the Arctic region was warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet and predicted that the ice cap could melt entirely in the milder summer months before the end of this century.

That would spell catastrophe for numerous species unique to the Arctic and threaten the indigenous peoples' traditional way of life.

"Climate change is not just about weather or sea ice conditions ... It's a fight to preserve a way of life," Watt-Cloutier said.

The foreign ministers of the eight Arctic Council countries -- the United States, Canada, Russia, Japan, Finland, Sweden, Iceland and Norway -- are scheduled to meet in the Icelandic capital on November 24 to discuss the political ramifications of the researchers' report.

On Friday, representatives of the indigenous peoples called on the ministers to adopt a policy document, "robust" and "strong" in the words of Watt-Cloutier, urging countries to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases.

The United States, the only country in the region which has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol on reducing emissions, is trying to prevent the document from becoming too restrictive, several conference delegates said.

"To be honest I don't expect a good declaration," the head of the Sami Council, Geir Tommy Pedersen, said.

"The United States is the big bad wolf when it comes to climate policy. It is blocking efforts to flesh out political recommendations," he told AFP.

The United States has refused to sign the Kyoto treaty, which requires industrialized nations to cut down on their output of greenhouse gases, on the grounds that it would hurt the US economy and because it does not require developing countries such as China and India to cut their emissions.

The Protocol will nonetheless enter into force following Russia's recent decision to ratify it.

But, said Icelandic MP and former environment minister Siv Fridleifsdottir, "we need the United States at the negotiation table."

"If we don't get the US at the table, it will be difficult to get the developing countries to take commitments on their shoulders," she said.

Environmentalists suggested that Russia's decision to sign the treaty and the highly-publicized report on Arctic climate conditions could give US President George W. Bush an opportunity to review the US position.

"WWF is calling on this newly elected Bush administration to revisit its policy" on climate change, said Jennifer Morgan of the international environmental organisation.

Some scientists said they have already observed a slight shift in the US stance.

"I'm more optimistic (...) because I see changes," said Robert Corell, the American head of the Arctic climate change report.

"It's not a matter of whether, it's a matter of when" the United States will commit themselves to the issue, he said, suggesting that a real change could come as early as the next few months.

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