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Nunavut could be a leader in sustainable economics: new report

“In Nunavut, the transition from an Indigenous to a formal market economy has left many behind”

By LISA GREGOIRE

A new report, commissioned by Greenpeace Canada, outlines ways in which Nunavut might transition to a healthier, more sustainable society and economy.


A new report, commissioned by Greenpeace Canada, outlines ways in which Nunavut might transition to a healthier, more sustainable society and economy.

An American think tank that studies ways to promote sustainable economies says Nunavut is ripe for a greener, more sustainable future and is suggesting some ways it can get there.

John Talberth and Daphne Wysham of the Oregon-based Center for Sustainable Economy, released a report in August saying that Nunavut, with its predominantly Inuit population and traditional reliance on the land and on community, has an “unprecedented opportunity” to demonstrate, “what sustainable development looks like in the post-fossil fuel era.”

The study, “Beyond Fossil Fuels: Sustainable Development Opportunities in Eastern Nunavut,” was commissioned by Greenpeace Canada to complement efforts by the environmental organization to promote alternative energies in Canada’s North including a recent solar panel installation in Clyde River.

While the report has only been released in English at this point, the executive summary, at least, has been translated into Inuktitut — a rarity among academic reports of this kind.

Talberth and Wysham, citing numerous studies from around the circumpolar world, suggest four broad areas in which Nunavummiut, and their leaders, could make the transition away from diesel energy and resource extraction and toward a more self-sufficient, and potentially healthier, economy:

• building human capital including investing in education, food security, traditional knowledge capacity and preservation, and internet connectivity;

• supporting renewable energy options such as solar, wind, hydro and tidal power as well as promoting eco-efficient building construction;

* supporting Indigenous tourism, as an alternative to foreign-owned cruise ship and adventure tourism, by building up, and marketing, unique Inuit experiences and destinations — in demand in Europe and the U.S. — as well as bolstering tourism industry training, education and services; and,

• growing an Inuit-controlled sustainable fishery for both commercial and subsistence purposes.

Nunavut’s economy has tended to revolve around resource extraction and public administration.

According to numbers quoted in the report from the Nunavut Bureau of Statistics, those two sectors dominated Nunavut’s real gross domestic product for 2015, accounting for a combined 35 per cent.

Gross domestic product is the total value of goods and services provided in a country during one year.

But with commodity prices tanking and the mining sector cooling — and no southern-style dependency on manufacturing — Nunavut is poised to “leapfrog past a resource extraction focus and demonstrate to the world what sustainable development looks like,” the authors write.

And, since climate change will impact the Arctic more than anywhere else, it puts Nunavummiut in a unique position to take control and be leaders in adapting their evolving economy and making it more sustainable, the report says.

The authors note that the basic ideas behind of sustainable communities are “woven into the Inuit’s cultural fabric” and that most Inuit who participated in a Danish survey on Arctic living conditions said they preferred a mix of subsistence activities and wage labour.

“In Nunavut, the transition from an Indigenous to a formal market economy has left many behind. While it has certainly raised living standards for some, for most, the promise of prosperity has yet to be fulfilled,” the report says.

“The irony is that poverty is, in may ways, a product of the formal market economy. In the Indigenous economy, financial insecurity, food insecurity and substandard housing did not exist.”

But, the authors say, any path forward for Nunavut must “prioritize the needs of marginalized communities” and respond to, “a litany of social and economic ills,” that plague the young territory including poverty, food insecurity, housing shortages, illiteracy, cultural alienation, suicide and poor health.

Those social problems and challenges could be met, the authors suggest, by promoting economic control and independence and reconnecting to traditional culture and language, themes that run throughout the report.

Beyond Fossil Fuels: Report by NunatsiaqNews on Scribd

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