Youth, North American delegates refuse to sign statement

Indigenous summit stalls on climate change


A gathering of indigenous people last week in Anchorage, Alaska showed why the world's nations don't have an easy time agreeing how to tackle climate change.

Delegates at the United Nations indigenous peoples' global summit on climate change wanted to produce a strong declaration to give world leaders at next December's UN climate change meeting in Copenhagen.

But the official signing of their declaration was derailed at the last moment when a youth representative suddenly announced that he couldn't support the declaration and wouldn't sign it.

The North American delegation also refused to sign the declaration, leaving only five of the seven indigenous parties ready to sign the document.

Inuit Circumpolar Council president Patricia Cochran, chair of the five-day conference, was visibly surprised by the refusal and abruptly adjourned the signing ceremony, which aired on the live web cast of the conference at

Cochran then went back into talks to resolve the standoff.

The disagreement among the signatories resulted from the declaration's position on fossil fuels.

The youth and North American delegations wanted the declaration to call for a clear moratorium on new oil and gas drilling and a phase-out of all fossil fuels, which produce most of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

They told reporters that otherwise, developed countries won't emissions by 95 per cent by 2050.

That's the reduction target endorsed in their declaration. The 95 per cent reduction by 2050 will also be an objective of the new global agreement expected to result from the Copenhagen meeting next December.

As it stands now, the indigenous peoples' declaration will go to the Copenhagen climate change meeting containing two options.

One option calls for a moratorium on new oil and gas drilling, where supported by indigenous people. The second option says indigenous people will work towards an eventual phase-out of fossil fuels, while, at the same time, respecting the rights of indigenous people to develop their resources.

But youth said later they may still submit their own declaration in Copenhagen.

The declaration also calls for indigenous peoples to be fully respected in all decision-making related to climate change, and for the Copenhagen conference to recognize the importance of traditional knowledge and practices.

The Anchorage meeting drew 400 indigenous people from 80 nations. Some wore long underwear under their traditional clothing to keep warm.

Throughout the week, delegates heard how climate change affects various indigenous peoples with more droughts, hurricanes, floods, insects, smog and diseases.

From the Arctic came stories of land vanishing by erosion and the disappearance of bird and animals due to climate change.

Gunn-Britt Retter from the Saami Council told the gathering how even projects to generate "clean energy" such as wind farms or farms for bio-fuel disrupt Saami reindeer herding.

Vichislav Shadrin, a Yukagir from northeastern Russia, said hunters from his part of the world can't get to the receding floe edge to hunt, while polar bears can't get on to the ice either and are forced into communities.

Lakes are polluted, houses and roads are heaving and many airports are so unusable they can no longer be used for medical evacuations.

"In case of an emergency, we don't get health care," Shadrin said.

Climate change is a "question of life and death for indigenous peoples," Shadrin said, echoing comments made by many other speakers.

In a videotaped address, environmental activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier said indigenous peoples should "seize the opportunity" to become involved in the climate change debate, a message that was also picked up by Aqqaluk Lynge in his speech to the meeting.

"Inuit are being ignored in his debate," Lygne said, urging more "effective partnerships" to make sure Inuit get a voice in decisions that concern them.

Lynge also pointed to the Inuit declaration on sovereignty to be released this week at the April 29 Arctic Council meeting in Tromsø, Norway, which says Arctic governments must include Inuit as equal partners in any future talks regarding Arctic sovereignty.

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