By Stephen Hendrie
The stakes were high at the COP26 climate change meeting in November 2021 held in Glasgow, Scotland. In the months leading up to the conference, international media described this conference as the last chance to save the planet before climate change renders parts of the world uninhabitable. Extreme weather incidents such as the massive wildfires in British Columbia, which burned Lytton, B.C., to the ground, or the historic flooding in Europe, heightened the tension ahead of the COP26 meeting. In addition, the global coronavirus pandemic continued to rage, but the meeting went ahead in person.
The Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) sent a substantial delegation to the meeting. ICC has attended the COP meetings since the original 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janiero. From Nunavik, ICC Canada (International) Vice-President Lisa Koperqualuk attended. She said the planning that went into the ICC delegation made it a success for Inuit.
”We were really there as a team. It made all the difference in saying that we have the Inuit voice there,” she said. “I found that it was more effective having that voice, and showing the world that we were a team. We were together in quite a few activities.”
The team included ICC International Chair Dalee Sambo Dorough from Alaska as Head of Delegation. National Inuit Youth Council (NIYC) President Brian Pottle attended from Nunatsiavut. Victoria Buschman originally from Alaska, now living in Nuuk, Greenland, attended as a scientist and Inuit Knowledge Holder. Nunavut Elder Piita Irniq was a dynamic cultural representative and Inuit Knowledge Holder. Jimmy Oleekatalik, the General Manager of the Spence Bay Hunter and Trappers Organization attended as an Inuit Knowledge Holder. Inuit Youth included one of the Emerging Leaders Adelaine “Addy” Ahmasuk from Alaska, and Tagalik Eccles from Nunavut. Organizers included Joanna MacDonald ICC Canada Climate Change Officer who was the delegation coordinator, and Crystal Martin-Lapenskie who provided delegation support and is the past NIYC President.
ICC issued a position paper outlining what they are asking from the nations who attended COP26. Dalee Sambo Dorough summed it up as follows: “Our statement emphasized the need for massive efforts by governments to cap global temperature rise, but also to value our Indigenous knowledge, and our leadership on climate action, and to support Inuit participation in climate governance. We also underscored the need to ensure that oceans and the coastal seas and the cryosphere are protected – these are critical ecosystems for Inuit across Inuit Nunaat.”
“We had an extraordinary impact,” says Sambo Dorough. “One of the first things was for ICC to represent the Arctic Region in the Facilitative Working Group Meeting which took place October 28-30. The Arctic Region consists of Inuit and Saami. Presently I’m the Arctic Region Representative to this Facilitative Working Group, which is the newest constituted body of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In addition, we had a dialogue with the COP Presidency of the UK. We also had a brief meeting with representatives from the Government of Greenland, Canada, and of course the United States, which has returned back to the UN Climate Change Convention.”
Lisa Koperqualuk met with Canada’s new Environment Minister, Steven Guilbeault, at COP26. It was his 19th COP meeting. His previous times attending were as an environmental activist. Now, he was there as a government minister, while activists were inside, and protesting outside the venue. “That makes him really aware of the issues that go through the COP,” says Koperqualuk. “We had a very good exchange. I spoke about the main issues related to climate change, and the International Maritime Organization work that we are doing, related to Arctic shipping. He seemed to indicate a good level of support.” Jimmy Oleekatalik and Brian Pottle also attended the meeting.
International Inuit Day is held each year on November 7. The Scottish Government hosted the ICC Delegation and commemorated the event with a full day of activities held at Strathclyde University. The day included talks, cultural performances, documentary film screenings, a supper, closing performances from a Scottish group, and throat singing by Lisa Koperqualuk and Crystal Martin-Lapenskie.
ICC produced two podcasts on COP26 – one in Inuktitut with Lisa, Piita, and Jimmy, and another in English with Dalee, Lisa, Crystal, and Victoria. Both were hosted by Madeline Allakariallak. The podcast is called “Unikkaat / Circumpolar Waves.”
The next climate change meeting – COP27 – will work to implement the Glasgow Climate Pact. This includes strengthened efforts to build resilience to climate change, to curb greenhouse gas emissions and to provide the necessary finance for both. Nations reaffirmed their duty to fulfill the pledge of providing $100 billion annually from developed to developing countries. And they collectively agreed to reduce emissions, so that the rise in the global average temperature can be limited to 1.5°C. For the first time, nations are called upon to phase down coal power and inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels. COP27 will be held November 7-18, 2022 in Sharm el-Sheikh, South Sinai, Egypt.