Arctic communities will need help to deal with climate change
'We are basically developing communities same as those in third world countries,' says Okalik Eegeesiak
Following the signing of a global pact to fight climate change over the weekend, Inuit leaders and Nunavut politicians are pointing out that Arctic communities, like developing countries, are going to need help to reduce their emissions and address the impacts of climate change.
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- Inuit, environmentalists lobby for action at Paris climate conference
- Arctic experts optimistic about Paris climate conference, COP21
Nearly 200 nations adopted the Paris Agreement on Saturday, resulting from the 21st meeting of the Conference of Parties, or COP21.
The agreement, which comes into effect in 2020, aims to keep warming from rising more than 2 C over pre-industrial levels, and eventually to limit that to 1.5 C. The signatories are asked to set national targets for reducing emissions and improve them regularly.
Now it's up to Canada to implement its strategy on how to reduce greenhouse gases. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to meet with the premiers within 90 days of COP21.
'We are basically developing communities'
In a statement, Trudeau promised to move toward a climate-resilient economy and invest in public transit, green infrastructure and clean technologies. He also promised "significant support to help developing countries reduce their emissions and deal with the impacts of climate change."
Eegeesiak said she wished Arctic communities were included in that promise.
"Most of the governments that were in Paris announced significant amounts of money for developing countries but it seems that the northern communities, the First Nations communities, get forgotten about in these types of funding arrangements," she said.
"We are basically developing communities same as those in third world countries."
To address this issue, Eegeesiak said the Inuit Circumpolar Council signed a co-operation protocol with the government of Greenland and the government of Nunavut speaking to the lack of infrastructure, and the need to address it.
'We can't lose sight of our link with nature'
Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said, considering the financial constraints within Arctic communities, they will have to "be creative" to find ways to reduce emissions.
"As far as our communities now, the way that they operate, they rely on diesel generators for power and rely on fly-in fly-out links for just about everything," he said.
"We should be reconsidering; we should be looking for any possible way that we can to live more sustainably.
"I think that we can, as a people, push our governments across all four Inuit regions to figure out ways in which we can, at the micro level and at the community and regional level, do our part."
He said making these changes will go a long way in preserving the Inuit relationship with the environment they live in.
"We can't lose sight of our link with nature and also with our past," said Obed.
A lot of help needed
John Smol, a professor at Queen's University and Canada's Research Chair in Environmental Change, has been doing research in Nunavut for the past 30 years.
"When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions from diesel fuel, that's something that people are going to need a lot of help with," he said.
"There's a potential in the Arctic of wind power and other types of power, but we're all struggling with this."
He added that relying on fossil fuels has been the easy way.
"The Arctic is especially vulnerable to this because there are difficulties finding good alternatives."
Smol said the sooner alternatives are found, the better it will be for the territory. In the meantime, he said things such as better insulation in housing, turning down the thermostat and choosing to use vehicles less often will reduce fuel use and the territory's carbon footprint.
"That all accumulates," said Smol,
"Everyone says 'My footprint is such a small part,' but you put a whole bunch of footprints together and it makes a big effect."
Every new mine increases the carbon footprint
"The territory is underdeveloped so our economy is just really behind the rest of the country," said Steve Pinksen, an assistant deputy minister in Nunavut's Department of Environment.
He said the development of non-renewable resources is one way that Nunavut is trying to build its economy to address its infrastructure needs.
"Every mine we open increases our carbon footprint by somewhere in the area of 15 to 25 per cent — a large amount, relatively speaking," said Pinksen.
Nunavut needs to balance its need for development with its desire to manage its carbon footprint and that's the message he said the Northern premiers will be taking to their meeting with the prime minister.
"In terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the territories need a bit of a break here to allow our economies to catch up to others before we're going to be able to play our role in reduction," he said.