Inuit communities torn over emissions reductions

Saving the north from climate change is essential—so long as it’s not at the expense of oil and gas operations

The ice is receding, coastlines eroding and permafrost melting, but Arctic Inuit leaders are divided over the ongoing environmental negotiations at the COP15 conference in Copenhagen.

Jimmy Stotts, chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), an organization representing Inuit from Canada, Russia, the U.S. and Greenland, says a fair, enforceable and balanced agreement is needed to save the north from climate change. But he also emphasizes that the Inuit have only recently started to realize the economic advantages of oil, gas and mineral reserves on their land. Proposed emissions targets could undercut his people just as they begin to get on their feet, he argues, and he wants any treaty to contain provisions allowing Inuit communities to utilize their natural resources. “This is our way to improve our lives,” he says. “There really is nothing to replace those revenues.”

But Sheila Watt-Cloutier, a Canadian Inuit environmental activist, says there is no justification for further eroding the northern climate by excavating for natural resources. “Economic gain must not override the existence and well-being of a whole people whose way of life is already being severely taxed.”

Meanwhile, Greenland—a country primarily populated by Inuit—plans to start aggressively tapping its oil, gas and mineral deposits and build an aluminum smelter that could greatly increase national emissions—by up to 75 per cent, some environmentalists say. The country’s position has put a rift between Inuit groups and is making international talks difficult. It refuses to abide by restrictions on its industries, claiming emissions targets will make resource development impossible.

Unfortunately, Stotts says, those disagreements among the Inuit are only one part of the general disarray in Copenhagen, and he thinks the talks will bring little help to the north. “It’s crazy what’s going on here . . . I’d be real surprised if something strong and meaningful came out of this.”

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