Monday, February 25, 2013

Ice wars

The Arctic is home to unique human communities whose livelihoods and communities are increasingly challenged by the effects of climate change. Melting ice, stronger storms, growing erosion, thawing permafrost, more unpredictable weather and other direct effects of climate change are already impacting indigenous communities. But warming temperatures and melting ice are also making possible more commercial, transport and military initiatives in the region. New sea routes are being opened, new enterprises are being planned, new drilling and mining licenses are being issued and new tourist destinations are opening up. The movement of more people to the Arctic region will have significant effects on indigenous populations, cultures and livelihoods.

The Arctic is inhabited by approximately 4 million people of whom 400,000 are considered indigenous. Approximately two-thirds of the total population in the Arctic lives in relatively large settlements, although indigenous peoples living in circumpolar countries is characterized by small, widely separated communities. With “longer ice-free periods now available to explore for hydrocarbons, a new scramble for oil and gas could occur” especially if the price of oil and gas increase and new technological developments take place. In 2009, 15 percent of petroleum production came from onshore Arctic production. But 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered gas and 13 percent of world’s undiscovered oil is in the Arctic. New maritime routes in the Arctic raise new issues about sovereignty and offer expanded opportunities for military operations. The stakes are getting higher for control of territory in the Arctic. Greenland is thought to sit on vast mineral deposits but previous efforts at large-scale mining were unsuccessful because of the expense of working in the bitterly cold climate.

The question is who in the Arctic will make these choices.

The UN estimates that there are about 5000 different indigenous peoples, with a population of about 370 million and occupy 20 percent of the world’s territory. The Arctic peoples make up 2%. Like other nomadic peoples, mobility has long been recognized as characteristic of Arctic communities as they have traditionally moved in response to seasonal changes and to support of livelihoods, whether hunting, reindeer herding, fishing or foraging. Also like nomadic peoples in other parts of the world, there have been increasing pressures on Arctic indigenous communities to settle in villages rather than to move continually.

Inuit Circumpolar Council which represents the Inuit of Denmark, Canada, the US and Russia launched its Circumpolar Inuit Declaration on Arctic Sovereignty on 28 April 2009, stating “it is our right to freely determine our political status, freely pursue our economic, social, cultural and linguistic development, and freely dispose of our natural wealth and resources.” The ICC represents all 155,000 Inuit – from Russia to Greenland -- on matters of international concern.  In fact, article 26 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples enshrines their right to own, use, develop and control the lands they have traditionally occupied.

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