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Global Warming and Inuit Human Rights

Oread Daily writes:

"Global Warming and Inuit Human Rights"

Oread Daily

The United States is about to be charged with human rights
violations for contributing substantially to global warming. The Inuit, whose homeland stretches from the northeastern tip of
Russia across Alaska and northern Canada to parts of Greenland, plan
to seek a ruling from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
saying that the actions of the US are threatening their existence.

The Inuit plan is part of a broader shift in the debate over human-
caused climate change evident among participants in the 10th round
of international talks taking place in Buenos Aires aimed at
averting dangerous human interference with the climate system. Inuit
leaders said they planned to announce the effort at the climate
meeting today. Representatives of poor countries and communities —
from the Arctic fringes to the atolls of the tropics to the flanks
of the Himalayas — say they are imperiled by rising temperatures
and seas through no fault of their own. They are casting the issue
as no longer simply an environmental problem but as an assault on
their basic human rights.Such a petition could have decent prospects now that industrial
countries, including the United States, have concluded in recent
reports and studies that warming linked to heat-trapping smokestack
and tailpipe emissions is contributing to big environmental changes
in the Arctic, a number of experts said. Last month, an assessment
of Arctic climate change by 300 scientists for the eight countries
with Arctic territory, including the United States, concluded
that "human influences" are now the dominant factor.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier, elected chair of the Inuit Circumpolar
Conference (ICC), says the biggest fear was not that warming would
kill individuals but that it would be the final blow to a sturdy but
suffering culture. "We've had to struggle as a people to keep
afloat, to keep our indigenous wisdom and traditions. We're an
adaptable people, but adaptability has its limits.Something is bound
to give, and it's starting to give in the Arctic, and we're sending
that early warning signal to the rest of the world."

Chief Gary Harrison of the Arctic Athabaskan Council, said: "Our
homes are threatened by storms and melting permafrost, our
livelihoods are threatened by changes to the plants and animals we
harvest. Even our lives are threatened, as traditional travel routes
become more dangerous."

Attorneys from Earthjustice and the Center for International
Environmental Law (CIEL) are working with the Inuit Circumpolar
Conference to file the petition.

Donald Goldberg, a senior attorney from CIEL said at the
Conference, "Climate change is a human rights concern on an
unprecedented scale. It poses an immediate danger for Inuit and
other Arctic inhabitants, but millions of people in mountain areas,
low-lying island and coastal regions, and other vulnerable parts of
the world will soon face similar threats."

"Protecting human rights is the most fundamental responsibility of
governments," said Martin Wagner, International Program managing
attorney for Earthjustice. "Climate change is threatening the
health, culture, and livelihoods of the Inuit. It is the
responsibility of the United States, as the largest source of
greenhouse gases, to take immediate action to protect the rights of
the Inuit and others around the world."

The Arctic is warming much more rapidly than previously known, at
nearly twice the rate as the rest of the globe, according to the
Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), a four-year scientific
study conducted by an international team of 300 scientists under the
direction of a high-level intergovernmental forum including the
United States. Increasing greenhouse gases from human activities are
projected to make the Arctic warmer still, according to this
unprecedented report.

The Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IAHRC) is an agency of
the Organization for American States, of which the US is a member.
The Inuit have a voice in the OAS - and thus the commission -
through Canada, where they have their own immense and partly
autonomous territory of Nunavut, covering 1.9 million square
kilometers, a fifth of Canada. But although the IAHRC can issue
findings, recommendations, and rulings, it is not a court, and the
US has predictably indicated it will not consider itself bound by
anything that emerges.

But a ruling could be the basis for lawsuits. If the Inuit gain a
ruling that their human rights have been violated, it could form the
basis of a case against the US government in an international court,
or class-action suits in the US against the government or US energy
companies, akin to the suits which have led to multibillion-dollar
judgments against the tobacco companies.

One Inuit community of nearly 600 people in the Alaskan barrier
island of Shishmaref faces becoming the world's first "global
warming refugees". The permafrost on which their homes were built
has melted and the ice that used to stop waves reaching the shore
has nearly disappeared. Joe Braach, the headteacher of Shishmaref
school, says: "When I moved here, the sea was 40ft (12m) from the
house. Now it's about 10ft (3m)." Storms have destroyed some of the
homes and the community now has little option but to move to the
mainland, at a cost of $400m. Sources: Seattle Post Intelligencer,
Earth Justice, New Zealand Herald, Canadian Arctic Profiles

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