Exempt northerners from emission cuts: Inuit leader

People living in the circumpolar North should be exempt from mandatory greenhouse-gas cutbacks, according to the head of an international Inuit organization.

People living in the circumpolar North should be exempt from mandatory greenhouse-gas cutbacks, according to the head of an international Inuit organization.

Jimmy Stotts, the Alaska-based chairman of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, made the remark during the United Nations climate change summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, this week.

Stotts told CBC News that Inuit people, who are based in developed countries, still have needs similar to developing nations when it comes to making their economies grow via such activities as mining and oil and gas exploration.

Inuit are worried about the impact strong greenhouse-gas emission targets would have on those economic drivers, he said.

"It just doesn't seem right for Inuit, who have gotten themselves to this point where they can develop and make better communities, without having access to the money that they make from these industries," Stotts said.

"So there must be some sort of way to figure out to allow that to happen."

The Inuit Circumpolar Council represents Inuit from northern Canada, Alaska, Greenland and Russia.

Stotts is an Inupiat from Barrow, Alaska, where Inuit are part-owners of a vast oil and gas project, but he said there is mining, oil and gas work being done in other areas of the North.

"I would hope also that there's an understanding, with some of the cutbacks that they're proposing in CO2 emissions, that there be some sort of a moratorium or a softening of the rules for northern peoples."

Environmental activists lobbying for strict greenhouse-gas emission targets disagreed with Stotts's idea of an exemption for Inuit and other northerners.

"They do not basically, essentially add a lot of CO2 to the air. However, since they're still supplying the oil, I do not think that that is fair that they should be exempt at all," said Ayodele Akinpelu of the American organization Sustain Us, which is pushing the United States to commit to tougher emission targets.

Others, like Canadian youth delegate Devon Willis of Montreal, acknowledged economic development in the North is an issue, but said there must be alternatives for the North other than fossil fuels.

"In the case of the Inuit and the North of Canada, it is something that I think we acknowledge as being an issue because in the North there are so few other economic opportunities for the people who do live there," she said.

Stotts said he doesn't believe his call for an exemption undermines the Inuit Circumpolar Council's call for strong action to combat climate change.

With files from Patricia Bell