'An ice-free Northwest Passage is a disaster.'

Watt-Cloutier urges 'low-carbon economy'


Breathless headlines proclaiming an ice-free Northwest Passage within decades might be music to the ears to companies that trade in global shipping or resource exploitation.

But Sheila Watt-Cloutier thinks Canada, already fretting over how to defend its tenuous hold on control of the passage, could kill two birds with one stone and step up the fight against climate change.

After all, she said in a keynote address to the Planning For Climate Change conference in Iqaluit July 20, the reason the passage is impassable now is because it's frozen.

"Until that ice started to melt nobody cared," Watt-Cloutier told 200 assembled delegates at the Frobisher Inn. "But an ice-free Northwest Passage is an environmental disaster."

Numerous countries are eying the Arctic as a potential source of minerals, oil and natural gas as climate change causes polar ice to melt.

But Watt-Cloutier said the loss of sea ice is a disaster for Inuit who use it for transportation and hunting. And climate change is proof the planet can't handle unrestrained economic expansion, she added.

And the impacts of climate change, caused by the consumption of wealthy western countries will fall disproportionately upon the shoulders of poor and indigenous people, she said.

Watt-Cloutier, filling in for Mary Simon, the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, who was sick, also called on the city planners, scientists and academics to work with holders of traditional knowledge "to develop a low-carbon economy."

That's exactly what the symposium is for, said organizer Debbie Nielsen.

"One of the goals of the symposium is definitely to bring the two together, the community and scientific knowledge sharing planning practices," she said.

The conference offered delegates sessions on everything from the basic science behind climate change to the experiences of communities like Ottawa and Aklavik, Northwest Territories, which have already had dealing with impacts of climate change.

The symposium, which ran until this past Wednesday, even sought to reduce its own carbon emissions, caused by hundreds of conference-goers flying in from southern Canada.

Nielsen said organizers calculated the total emissions generated by the symposium were worth $4,500 based on the going price for carbon offset credits.

That amount, plus any profits generated by the conference, will go to a fund designed to support sustainable development projects in Iqaluit.

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