Inuit condemn U.S. torpedoing of Arctic Council declaration

The Inuit Circumpolar Council blasted the U.S. for torpedoing the Rovaniemi Declaration at Tuesday’s Arctic Council ministerial after refusing to sign on if the words 'climate change' were included in the joint document.

Canada's ICC president Monica Ell-Kanayuk says U.S. actions reversed their own commitments

Finland's foreign minister Timo Soini, centre, speaks during the 11th Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council in Rovaniemi, Finland, Tuesday May 7, 2019. (Mandel Ngan/Pool via AP)

The Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), an organization that represents 165,000 Inuit in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Chukotka, Russia, blasted the U.S. for torpedoing the Rovaniemi Declaration at Tuesday's Arctic Council ministerial after refusing to sign on if the words "climate change" were included in the joint document.

Dalee Sambo Dorough, international chair of the ICC, which is one of the six Arctic Indigenous organizations, known as permanent participants, that make up the Arctic Council along with the eight northern countries, called the U.S. actions a lack of leadership and a "moral failure."

"This is the first time the Arctic Council has failed to issue a declaration at the end of a two-year chairmanship, and it's a serious blow to the future of what is supposed to be a consensus-based body," Sambo Dorough said in a statement issued late Tuesday.

"Inuit are feeling the effects of climate change every day. While the U.S. government concerns itself with semantics, playing games with words, our people are witnessing the adverse impacts of climate change. What about us and our reality?"

Liubov Taian, the president of ICC Russia, said the reality of Arctic Inuit communities is being ignored.

"This is not just a question of words – it's about the long-term survival of our culture and communities," Taian said. "Our traditional Inuit territory covers 40 per cent of the Arctic region and it is essential that governments work with us to deal with the threat of climate change throughout Inuit Nunaat, our Arctic homeland."

The Arctic states’ foreign ministers and permanent participant Indigenous groups take their seats at the 11th Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Rovaniemi, Finland on Tuesday. (Vesa Moilanen/Lehtikuva/AP)

Scramble for last minute compromise

The Arctic Council's mandate is to discuss sustainable development and environmental protection in the North. The countries' ministers and permanent participants meet biennially at the ministerial to take stock, transfer the rotating two-year chairmanship between the countries, and to sign a declaration that establishes their priorities for the next two years.

This year's ministerial was held in Rovaniemi, Finland, on Tuesday, where Finland handed the two-year rotating chairmanship of the organization over to Iceland.

But it was the first time in the Arctic Council's history that an agreement on the final declaration couldn't be reached.

Instead, the outgoing chair scrambled to cobble together a last-minute compromise with the Arctic states, and issued a one-page statement that pledged a joint commitment to the "well-being of the inhabitants of the Arctic, to sustainable development and to the protection of the Arctic environment," but that made no mention of climate change or the Paris climate agreement.

Indigenous voices sidelined

Unlike the usual declarations, which are developed with input from the Arctic Council's Indigenous organizations, the compromise joint ministerial statement was put together without them.

"We are worried about the undermining of the Arctic Council's credibility at a time when genuine leadership and a strong Arctic voice is needed," said Hjalmar Dahl, president of ICC Greenland.

Canada's ICC president Monica Ell-Kanayuk said U.S. actions reversed their own commitments made during their recent 2015-17 chairmanship.

Monica Ell-Kanayuk, president of Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) Canada, in an undated photo. Ell-Kanayuk joined other Inuit leaders on Tuesday to denounce the U.S. for refusing to address climate change at the Rovaniemi ministerial. (Madeleine Allakariallak/CBC)

"This position was taken by the U.S. administration despite the fact that the 2017 Fairbanks Declaration at the end of the U.S. chairmanship clearly cited the effects of climate change in the Arctic and 'the need for action at all levels,'" she said.

The U.S. has been at odds with the rest of the Arctic community over climate issues since President Donald Trump announced his country's withdrawal from the Paris climate deal in 2017, a move blasted by other Arctic Council member states and something that continues to be a sticking point in bilateral meetings with Arctic Council nations.

James Stotts, ICC's Alaska president, said sidelining Indigenous contributions and views was a dangerous precedent for the Arctic Council, a forum that has long prided itself for including Arctic Indigenous groups since its founding.

"It's time to seriously listen to the solutions offered by ICC and the other permanent participants," he said. "Its Inuit leadership expressed the unanimous view that given the challenges facing the region, now is the time for a unified response to the threat posed by climate change and its compounding spin-off effects.

"This unity is important for Inuit and all people of the Arctic, as well as the rest of the world."