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Threatened By Warming, Arctic People File Suit Against US

by Michel Comte
Montreal (AFP) Dec 07, 2005
The people of the Arctic filed a landmark human rights complaint on Wednesday against the United States, blaming the world's No. 1 carbon polluter for stoking the global warming that is destroying their habitat.

The Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), representing native people in the vast, sparsely-populated region girdling the Earth's far north, said they had petitioned an inter-American panel to seek relief for Canadian and US Inuit.

"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," said Robert Corell, who spearheaded an Arctic climate impact assessment.

More than 150,000 Inuit, formerly called eskimos, are spread throughout the vast frozen northern territories of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Scandinavia and Russia.

These regions have experienced the most rapid and severe climate change on earth, according to Corell's assessment, which was prepared over four years by more than 300 scientists from 15 countries and six indigenous organizations.

Global warming has caused the northern ice cover to retreat, making it more dangerous for the Inuit to hunt food animals such as polar bears, seals and caribou, their investigation found.

These animals also face decline or extinction, unable to adapt to warmer temperatures as their own access to food sources, breeding grounds and migration routes are altered.

And, rising sea levels and flooding threaten coastal Inuit communities.

"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," said Sheila Watt-Cloutier, the ICC chair.

"But we refuse to disappear. We will not become a footnote to globalization."

The petition urges the Washington-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to declare the United States to be in violation of the 1948 American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.

It also wants the Commission to recommend that the United States adopt mandatory limits of its greenhouse-gas emission and join international efforts to curb global warming.

And it wants the Commission to declare the United States should help the Inuit adapt to unavoidable impacts of climate change.

If the Commission rules in favour, the impact will be more political than legal, the ICC acknowledged.

The panel, part of the Organisation of American States (OAS), is empowered to investigate and comment on human rights abuses, but has no power of enforcement.

Rising emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases primarily caused by burning fossil fuels are expected to warm the Arctic about 4-7 C (7.2-12.6 F), about twice the global average rise, over the next century, the ICC report concluded.

These dramatic climate changes "violate the Inuit's right to practice and enjoy the benefits of their culture."

Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin added to this gloomy tableau.

"High in the Arctic, in our interior and along our coasts, the country we know is being transformed," he said.

"Winters are growing milder, summers hotter and more severe, there is plant life where before there was none; there is water where before there was ice. Our permafrost is thawing -- and releasing methane gas into the atmosphere, accelerating climate change itself."

"Within short decades, the Northwest Passage, the famously un-navigable thoroughfare of history, may be passable -- a striking and unsettling example of our delicate balance succumbing to untenable strain," Martin added.

The United States, with only five percent of the world's population, emits some 25 percent of all harmful greenhouse gases.

Washington signed the 1992 Rio Convention on climate change and the Kyoto Protocol, but refused to ratify the latter.

The Inuit petition came as more than 100 ministers gathered Wednesday for the main part of a UN climate change conference in Montreal that has been going on since November 28 and is to end Friday.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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