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On Top of a Melting World: the Impact of Climate Change on Indigenous People in the Arctic Region

On Top of a Melting World: the Impact of Climate Change on Indigenous People in the Arctic Region

13 October 2004

The Arctic has been described as an indicator region for global environmental health. Both in the case of persistent organic pollutants and in the case of global warming, detrimental effects on indigenous peoples are becoming visible throughout the region - impacts that will also be felt in other parts of the world. A Dinner Dialogue with John Crump  discussed possible impacts and the actions taken by the Arctic Council in response to these threats. The Dinner Dialogue took place in Berlin on 13 October 2004.

Guest Speaker

Having held several positions as a journalist and as a policy analyst for both governments and non-governmental organisations, John Crump is currently the Executive Secretary of the Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples' Secretariat. He described the Arctic Council's role as a forum for exchange and a platform for political action, including eight countries and six indigenous peoples' associations. The Arctic Council itself  is a result of the changed east-west relationship, and a sign of the absence of conflict in the Arctic, a region which Mikhail Gorbachev once described as an "area of peace".

Address by John Crump

The indigenous peoples of the Arctic are especially exposed to the effects of pollution and climate change, two processes which they have not caused, but which are by-products of industrial pollution. In order to adapt to the changing circumstances, indigenous peoples' traditional ways of life have been changing dramatically, and will come under even more pressure in the future.

To react to the threat of persistent organic pollutants accumulating in the food chain, the Arctic Council and the indigenous peoples represented therein played a key role in the negotiation of the Stockholm Convention. The 2001 convention on persistent organic pollutants effectively banned the production and use of a "dirty dozen" of most harmful pollutants. In the negotiation process, indigenous negotiating used the Arctic Council as a platform to press for an agreement. Their position was not so much that of a victim, but rather making clear to the rest of the world that "what is happening to us, is also happening to you - only much quicker".

In response to the changing climate, the Arctic Council has commissioned one of the first regional climate change impact studies. The study predicts severe or even catastrophic impacts for the arctic ecosystems and the lives of indigenous peoples, as the average temperature may increase by as much as seven degrees.

Dinner Dialogue

The ensuing discussion over dinner addressed the fact that some actors would actually associate positive economic expectations with climate change in the arctic regions, as oil and gas resources become available for exploitation and as sea routes become passable for shipping and fishing, a development witnessed by the Danish claim to the North Pole, or thoughts of opening the North West Passage for shipping. In response, it was pointed out that the calculation of expected costs and benefits would need to go beyond just dollars and cents - what is the value of a culture under threat, of traditions that will be lost, and of the unique Arctic environment that may be damaged irreversibly?

The Dinner Dialogue was organised by Ecologic with friendly support of the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the Canadian Embassy.

13 October 2004
Berlin, Germany