By Stephen Hendrie
Three major international meetings held by the United Nations were attended by Nunavik Inuit in the fall of 2022. They were the COP27 Climate Change Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, the COP15 Conference on Biodiversity in Montreal, and the COP19 Conference on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Panama.
Adamie Delisle Alaku, Makivvik’s Vice President responsible for the Department of Environment, Wildlife, and Research (DEWR), attended parts of COP27 in Egypt, and COP15 in Montreal. In Egypt he was part of a large Inuit delegation led by the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC). He brought the Nunavik perspective to that huge meeting, attended by more than 190 countries, in the small Egyptian town on the shores of the Red Sea, surrounded by desert. Sharm El-Sheikh means “bay of the wise,” and is also called the “city of peace.”
“In Nunavik, a lot of permafrost is melting. We’ve had mudslides. Our hunting trails are not freezing up, so we’re not able to access our hunting grounds. In the fall and the spring, they thaw very quickly. The ice is our highway, and the snow is our highway, and we’re losing that ability to get to our hunting grounds. It’s impacting our food security,” said Adamie, adding that some members of the audience in Egypt had never seen snow. “You know when you explain there’s polar bears, they’re amazed, so it’s a wide range of people over there.”
The ICC delegation included the international Chair Sara Olsvig from Greenland, and ICC Canada President Lisa Koperqualuk, from Puvirnituq. The President of the Qarjuit Youth Council, Janice Parsons, also attended. Nunavut Elder and cultural advisor Piita Irniq was also an important part of the delegation.
In a press release ICC described the outcome of COP27 as “One Step Forward, Two Steps Backwards.” They said it took nearly two extra days, but the meeting was saved by a landmark agreement to establish a Loss and Damage fund that will see the world’s most vulnerable peoples compensated for their losses due to climate change.
“The Loss and Damage fund is a first step to ensuring climate justice. In the further development of the fund, we will work hard to ensure that Inuit, who have been on the front lines of climate changes for decades, will have equitable access to the fund,” said Sara Olsvig. “Despite the severe urgency of climate change and the increased extreme weather events, parties failed to agree on adding strong language to phase out fossil fuels.”
“Other concerns for Inuit in the Sharm El-Sheikh final agreement include the fact that there are fewer references to Indigenous Peoples and human rights than in the 2021 COP26 statement in Glasgow,” she said, “or the kinds of emissions reduction commitments needed to keep the target of holding global average temperature increases to 1.5°C or less.”
“The lack of human rights language is also a major concern,” said Lisa Koperqualuk, President of ICC Canada. “Language on human rights was on and off the table during the COP27, and the end result is a step back as the language included last year in the Glasgow Pact is now gone, which shows that human rights are not seen as fundamental principles by states, unfortunately.”
“It’s one step forward, two steps back,” Koperqualuk added. “But we don’t give up.”
For COP27, Inuit produced a strong position paper with five clear recommendations that highlighted Inuit requests to international leaders, the science community, private industry and others.
Delisle Alaku described the experience in Egypt as wide open. After two years of pandemic, people were packed together like sardines, with no testing, no masks, and no restrictions whatsoever. “I’m surprised I survived the heat. It was 29-30 degrees every day. But it was a dry heat. There was air conditioning everywhere.”
An estimated 35,000 delegates attended COP27. Venues were huge and held 15,000 people. Inuit spent a lot of time in the Indigenous Pavilion, which was open concept. “It was very loud,” says Adamie. “I really went into my motivational speaking style, ‘HOW’S EVERYBODY DOING?’ to get people’s attention. You have to be louder than everybody else.”
He was philosophical about the fact that despite major efforts in the past, notably the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, the Paris Agreement in 2015, and the progress made in Glasgow at COP26, there are major countries not at COP27, and Russia is at war with Ukraine. “It’s hard for the entire world to come together on a unified approach.”
With that in mind, he notes that at the local and regional level, back in Nunavik, every little step helps. “There are small initiatives, and the message I was giving at the COP is, ‘we’re trying to be sold on the big wind turbines, and big approaches, but what if we did small scale?’ Everybody has hunting cabins. If they had a little wind turbine and a small solar panel with an inverter, that would charge their batteries. That little displacement of not having to use gas for generators, every little bit helps.”
He listed other examples, such as upgrading to more fuel efficient four-stroke snowmobiles, and cited the Inukjuak mini-hydro dam as a great way to get off diesel in one community, and allow for electric vehicles and snowmobiles in town, because the grid would be based on renewable energy.
The next month in Montreal, Adamie and senior staff were at the Convention on Biodiversity COP15 meeting. It was held under tight security at the Palais des Congrès. Despite this, protestors from Canada’s West Coast, Brazil, and Indonesia managed to infiltrate the convention and disrupt major presentations, including the Prime Minister of Canada’s opening speech.
The two-week conference was presided over by China – a task assigned to the Minister of the Environment Huang Runqiu. Meanwhile Canada’s Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault – a former environmentalist – stickhandled numerous meetings and disagreements to finally arrive at an agreement at the end.
On the first day of the conference, Trudeau set the tone towards this final agreement by announcing that in Canada 30 per cent of our land and 30 per cent of our waters would become protected by 2030.
Calls to protect 30 per cent of the planet by 2030, nicknamed “30-by-30”, eventually became “30-by-30-by-30-by-30”. It would mean 30 per cent protection plus 30 per cent restoration of the planet at a cost of $30-billion, by 2030.
Gregor Gilbert, Director of Makivvik’s Department of Environment, Wildlife, and Research (DEWR), had this to say: “I do have a lot of worries about these 30 by 30 announcements and so on with very little detail on how it’s actually going to be achieved and implemented. Canada is really going to have a hard time doing that in the South. There’s no way they’re going to be able to meet those commitments if they’re not looking North. For someone living in Akulivik, for example, what does it mean? I think there’s a lot of work to do there from the federal perspective.”
Adamie Delisle Alaku also has a lot to say about the creation of protected areas in the Arctic. “I’m of a different opinion that we should be protecting everything, not just a little corner, or a little spot.” He described the land areas of Nunavik as being dotted by mining claims, which he says take precedence over protected areas.
In terms of marine protected areas he described in very colourful language how excited the Department of Fisheries and Oceans gets to create them. “Everything’s interconnected. If there’s a spill in Ivujivik, the flow is going to go to Salluit, Quaqtaq, and Kangiqsujjuaq. I feel it’s not a true protection because it’s protecting only one small area. I know they’re trying to draw a balance between development and protected areas.”
Someone who has been striving to find an environmental balance between development and protecting the environment for decades is David Suzuki, host of CBC TV’s “The Nature of Things” since 1979. Adamie described it as the highlight of his experience at COP15 to meet the famous environmentalist, and immediately invited him to Nunavik.
“I really want him to come to Kuujjuaq to see our research centre. He said, ‘you use elders, and traditional knowledge, right?’ I said, we use both! We use traditional knowledge and western science, and end up with a better science!”
At the COP19 conference in Panama, Inuit were represented by leaders from ICC, and officials such as Gregor Gilbert, and fellow senior officials from Nunatsiavut and Nunavut. Collectively Gilbert says they have been to 10 of these meetings over the years and stresses the importance of building ongoing relationships. Inuit have successfully protected polar bear trade at CITES in the past.
This time around Gilbert says, “there were various discussions surrounding ivory which could have impact on narwhal and walrus harvesting, or at least the economic spinoffs from that – the ability to trade narwhal or walrus tusks or handicrafts made from them. A lot of the time what happens at these international forums is that these species become proxies for the global anxiety around climate change.”
Adamie is aware how privileged he is as an Inuit leader to be able to criticize government policy in Canada. At all of the major COP meetings he has been to he has witnessed the extreme struggle impoverished Indigenous groups in South America, and remote African tribes have to live with on a day to day basis. “When I go to these conferences and I hear the struggle, it’s disheartening because we have so much in Nunavik. We have the Research Centre, our Hunting Fishing and Trapping Committees, our land claims agreements, our airlines, our subsidiaries. It’s disheartening to hear these stories of massacre and murder because a mining company is coming in, and all the politicians are corrupt and bought off by the mining companies, you know. We’re so fortunate in Nunavik, compared to the rest of the world.”
With this in mind, in the gargantuan COP meetings involving hundreds of nations, and struggling Indigenous Peoples, it is good to see that ways have been found to give groups not recognized by their own governments a voice in the process. This is via the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform (LCIPP).
Climate change is the challenge of all humanity. The issues at these three COP meetings are intertwined, as they all relate to our diminishing planet, threatening the survival of species, eco-systems, and the guarantee of more and more extreme weather events in the decades to come. It is literally a race against time to transform existing ways of living, with our dependence on fossil fuels, into ways that we can continue living, with new forms of energy less toxic to mother earth.
– The UNFCCC COP27 Climate Change Meeting was held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt from November 6-20, 2022
United Nations website: https://unfccc.int/cop27
– The United Nations Conference on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) COP19 conference took place in Panama City, Panama from November 14-25, 2022
CITES website: https://cites.org/eng/cop19
– The UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) COP15 conference took place in Montreal, Canada from December 7-19, 2022
United Nations website: https://www.cbd.int/conferences/2021-2022