“Climate warrior” plots strategy on behalf of Inuit

ICC president puts a human face on climate change

By JANE GEORGE

Named one of the world’s “climate warriors” by Rolling Stone and Salon magazines, the president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, Iqaluit’s Sheila Watt-Cloutier, will need to draw on all of her energy and all of her strong convictions during the upcoming UN climate change meeting in Montreal.

Watt-Cloutier will send out a message of alarm, describing what global warming means to Arctic residents.

“It’s not just about environment – it’s about culture. It’s about a way of life, all of those things which are so important to us in the Arctic,” she said.

Watt-Cloutier plans to keep her focus on people. That is, on what she calls the human face of global warming.

“ICC has to continue to take a lead, that [global warming in] the Arctic is a people issue, not just about new technology: it’s about adaptation, human rights, about all of these things which are so important to us up here,” she said.

Watt-Cloutier wants the world to react to this message before it’s too late, and the small window of opportunity of 10 to 15 years – before scientists predict the most extreme climate changes will occur if action isn’t taken – closes forever.

Watt-Cloutier has received a lot of attention from all corners of the world over the past three years, but, in her opinion, it takes the world a long time to act on, much less understand, issues such as global warming, which many people don’t yet feel in their own lives.

So, as a member of both the Canadian national delegation and head of the 25-member ICC observer delegation, Watt-Cloutier is steeling herself for two busy weeks in Montreal. She’ll lobby officials in the corridors, make speeches, participate in panel discussions and even fend off hecklers if she has to.

“We need immediate attention,” she said. “We can’t wait 10 or 15 years for new technology to kick in or the world to wean itself off oil.”

Watt-Cloutier plans to keep the pressure on various countries, especially the United States, to ge them to recognize the need to help Inuit adapt to climate change. Adaptation is something the more developed countries are reluctant to commit to, due to the potential cost.

“Our needs are unlikely to get addressed unless we continue to push the issue,” she said.

Another way to ensure the Arctic gets what it needs is to make sure the region and its peoples, are listed as a vulnerable region of concern when the UN draws up a new climate change convention or amends the existing document.

It’s too late for this to happen at the Montreal meeting, Watt-Cloutier said, but she plans, with Canada’s help, to start the process of recognition.

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