MILAN, Italy - Inuit hunters said Wednesday that
a thawing of Arctic ice threatened their human rights in a
novel bid to raise pressure on the United States to do more to
fight global warming.
"The human rights of Inuit are under threat as a result of
human-induced climate change," Sheila Watt-Cloutier, chair of
the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), told a news conference
during a 180-nation U.N. meeting on climate change in Milan.
The ICC represents about 155,000 Inuit in Alaska, Canada,
Greenland and Russia and says that rising temperatures are
undermining traditional lifestyles based around hunts of
animals like seals, whales, walruses and polar bears.
In recent years, some hunters have drowned by falling
through thinning ice, while thawing permafrost is destabilizing
buildings and triggering mudslides. U.N. studies say the Arctic
Ocean may be largely ice-free in summer by 2100.
"These are issues of life and death," Watt-Cloutier said.
"We go out to hunt on the sea ice to put food on the table. You
go to the supermarket."
She said the group was exploring legal ways to link human
rights and climate change to put pressure on the United States
and other nations to do more to cut emissions of greenhouse
gases like carbon dioxide.
She said the Inuit were likely to complain about global
warming to the Washington-based Inter-American Commission on
Human Rights, a part of the Organization of American States.
The Commission's rulings are non-binding but "powerful
governments do not like to be branded as human rights
violators," she said. "We will probably decide exactly what to
do around April next year."
U.N. climate models say global warming, blamed mainly on
carbon dioxide from cars and power plants, is felt first in
polar regions. Heat rebounds off white ice but when the ice
thaws, the darker water and land below soak up far more heat.
"The Arctic is the barometer of global environmental
health," Watt-Cloutier said. Climate change was threatening
many Arctic animals while bringing new species like barn owls
and ducks, as well as swarms of flies in summer.
She urged nations to sign up for the U.N. Kyoto protocol
meant to curb global warming. Washington pulled out in 2001,
saying Kyoto unfairly excluded developing nations and was too
costly to implement. Russia has yet to decide whether to
Paul Crowley, a lawyer for the Inuit, said they were
unlikely to try to sue the United States for global warming
because it was probably too expensive. Suing is an idea
suggested by some low-lying Pacific Island states that could be
washed away by rising sea levels.
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