Trudeau and Obama’s climate change announcement puts focus on Arctic

Climate change hitting Arctic region hardest, impacting Inuit communities

(An all-Indigenous flotilla took to kayaks on the Bassin de la Villette, which is Paris’ largest artificial lake and connects to the city’s canal system, as part of a protest during global climate change talks last year. Photo/Allan Lissner)

Brandi Morin
APTN National News
A joint Washington D.C. announcement by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama on combating climate change Thursday is being welcomed by experts.

Trudeau is in Washington to meet with Obama this week and the two leaders discussed a continental climate change strategy and improvements to the Canada-U.S. border.

On climate change, Trudeau and Obama agreed to new steps to curb methane gas emissions, co-ordinate with Indigenous peoples on Arctic development and support cleaner energy.

Canada’s former commissioner of the environment Scott Vaughn said the joint announcement was a positive step in the right direction.

“I think there’s been a fundamental shift from Ottawa’s perception of climate related issues,” said Vaughan, who is currently president of the International Institute for Sustainable Development. “In the Arctic it’s profoundly more serious and accelerating more rapidly than anywhere else in the world. We need to move on this urgently.”

Canada and the U.S. released a joint statement highlighted the importance of working with Indigenous groups by continuing to “respect and promote the rights of Indigenous peoples in all climate change decision making.”

Canada’s Arctic region is listed as a top priority as it is warming at twice the global rate.

“Arctic communities rest on the territories of Indigenous peoples, who possess a wealth of knowledge, distinct ways of life, and a richness of cultural diversity. It is home to natural marine, land and air migrations that know no borders. It is also the front line of climate change,” said the statement.

Vaughan said the commitments must be matched with delivery, and including Indigenous groups as full partners in tackling the issue because time is running out.

“For me I think it’s going back to the most simple of principles, which are, these actions are only going to be based on mutual trust, on a sense of recognizing the traditions and the wisdom of

Canada’s Indigenous peoples. Unless we sit down together as global partners on this then we’re going around and will be having these discussions in years from now or 20 years from now,” said Vaughan. “And we can’t repeat that anymore, we don’t have time anymore to leave people out. We need every single perspective in order to face the urgencies of these challenges.

Last week, following the first ministers meeting on climate change in Vancouver, First Nation chiefs expressed disappointment with the outcome. Some of the leadership said Ottawa and the provinces failed to properly engage and partner with Indigenous peoples on climate change.

The chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Allan Adam, whose community has attracted international attention due to its close proximity to tar sands development in Alberta’s north, stormed out of the meeting.

Adam claimed that the focus of the meeting was too centered on economic development instead of discussing ways of taking action to help affected communities mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Vaughn said the jobs versus climate tension is outdated.

“If you think about the start of the environmental agenda in the 1960s it pitted environmental protection and ecological protection against jobs. It was either jobs or the environment. When you think now about climate related issues, which is sort of at the center of this, how many jobs will be lost and how many jobs will be created?” said Vaughan. “But I don’t see it as an either-or. But I don’t live in Fort Chip or I don’t live adjacent to some of where these issues are daily concerns. I certainly can understand the frustration.”

Indigenous communities are taking the lead on adaptation and mitigation efforts in a natural sense around the world said Vaughan. Incorporating traditional ecological knowledge, Indigenous educators and land experts are key to helping solve the issue, he said.

“I think that we are not going to proceed unless we begin a fundamentally new partnership based on trust, based on listening, based on genuine humility as well as recognizing that the words First Nations mean something,” said Vaughan. “My personal view is that if we are going to make progress on this … we will learn more from Indigenous communities than they will learn from us.”

The president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), whose people occupy Canada’s Arctic region which includes 50 per cent of Canada’s coastline and 35 per cent of the country’s land mass, said dramatic changes caused by climate change are already occurring.

“Whether it’s ice forming one or two months later and ice leaving one or two months earlier in the spring, or invasive species that wouldn’t have ever been in the Arctic before,” said ITK President Natan Obed. “We’ve also depended upon our ice for our well-being and our connections to our Inuit and other communities and for hunting. The fact that our ice is not as thick as it was in the winter and the conditions aren’t as consistent year over year—we have hunters even, who are falling through the ice and dying because of not knowing the ice conditions. When we’ve been within these same areas, doing these same things for time immemorial…so it is having…life altering impacts on our people.”

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-With a file from The Canadian Press

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