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Inuit contributions vital in the fight against climate change

Coastal erosion is occurring between the homes in Tuktoyaktuk in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region. © ITK

 As the caretakers of more than 50 per cent of Canada’s coastline, Inuit are uniquely positioned — both geographically and politically — in the fight against climate change. But we can’t do it alone. While much of the rest of the world has the privilege of thinking about climate change as a problem to be dealt with in the future, our communities are facing disastrous changes right now. The average temperature in our homelands is rising at a rate nearly three times the global average, increasing by 2.2°C in recent decades. 

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami attended this year’s COP26 negotiations as part of a delegation calling on global leaders to do the following: to make unprecedented and massive efforts to cap global temperature rise, to value Indigenous Knowledge and leadership in climate action and support Indigenous participation in climate governance, as well as to recognize the oceans and cryosphere as critical ecosystems that must be protected through partnership with Inuit. 

These calls to action form what the Inuit Circumpolar Council is calling the “tools needed to protect the Arctic.” 

The immediate need for these tools is already being felt in communities such as Tuktoyaktuk, in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, where coastal erosion is rapidly eating away the ground beneath residents’ homes. 

Thawing permafrost means that our infrastructure is failing in regions that depend entirely on airport runways and seasonal ships for food supplies. Similarly, melting sea ice is already directly impacting our food security. Sea ice conditions are now often unpredictable and dangerous and threaten both safe travel and access to culturally significant sites. As marine people, the marine environment has provided us with food and clothing for millennia. In the face of climate change, our communities are constantly adapting to preserve the greater Arctic ecosystem and Inuit ways of living. 

Part of that adaptation means navigating a balance between environmental protections and responsible economic development. For both, we must have the climate-resilient infrastructure needed to respond to, and benefit from, shipping traffic that is increasing at a dramatic rate. 

In only four years, between 2015 and 2019, shipping in Inuit Nunangat increased by 37 per cent. 

Arctic shipping routes are becoming increasingly busy as sea ice is reduced, but we do not yet possess the necessary infrastructure to mitigate inevitable accidents, such as fuel spills or incidents that require search and rescue capabilities. 

Without proper infrastructure, our communities also won’t benefit from the economic boost ship traffic would bring to our people. 

ITK has been working in partnership with government and organizations to ensure Inuit are at the forefront of decision-making when it comes to the Arctic and its waters. 

In 2018, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard (DFO-CCG), in partnership with ITK, announced the creation of the new Arctic Region. Its goal is to ensure the concerns of Inuit are at the front line of DFO-CCG’s decision-making in the Arctic. 

In November 2021, the Inuit Circumpolar Council became the first Indigenous Organization to receive IMO Provisional Consultative Status within the International Maritime Organization (IMO). This status will ensure that Inuit from across the circumpolar world have a place at the table to ensure shipping taking place in our waters is safe and sustainable. It also recognizes our right to self-determination as we continue to take our place as the rightful caretakers of our environment. 

The way forward is clear. The fight against climate change in the Arctic cannot succeed without the vital contributions of Inuit. 

Natan Obed 
President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami 

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