Protecting the Arctic from rapid warming is one of the essential steps in averting runaway climate change for the entire planet, Inuit leader Sheila Watt-Cloutier states in an opinion piece for the Globe and Mail.
“For the Inuit, ice is much more than frozen water; it is our highways, our training ground, and our life force,” she wrote last week. “It’s something we thought to be as permanent as mountains and rivers in the south. But, in my generation, the Arctic sea ice and snow, upon which we Inuit have depended for millenniums, is now diminishing.”
Already, “dramatic climate change has left no feature of our landscape or our way of life untouched, and now threatens our very culture, our ability to live off the land in safety. While the Arctic may seem cold, dark, and distant for most, for us it is our beloved homeland which provides all that we need for our physical, spiritual, and cultural well-being.”
Watt-Cloutier, a former international chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference and now a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, notes that polar regions are seeing the fastest temperature rise in the world. Which means that “in all four regions where the Inuit live—Northern Canada, Alaska, Greenland, and Siberia—every community is struggling to cope with extreme coastal erosion, melting permafrost, and rapid runoff as temperatures rise,” she says. “The frozen permafrost that used to serve as a reliable foundation is destabilizing homes and other structures. As the coastline erodes, buildings have cracked and fallen into the ocean like a scene out of a sci-fi thriller. Sadly, this is not a movie.”
She added that all the world’s countries have an interest in preventing rapid warming in the Arctic: the region “is the planet’s air conditioner, and as it melts, it causes havoc on the world.” But building human rights protections into effective climate agreements “is not just a matter of strategy,” Watt-Cloutier stresses. “It is a moral and ethical imperative that requires the world to take a principled and courageous path to solve this great challenge. As more leaders lose sight of the larger and longer-term picture with great economic potential in sight, staying on the principled path will become increasingly difficult for many. This, I believe, is the test of our time.”