This week, Clive Tesar, Head of Communications for the Arctic Programme, is at the ‘2030 North’ conference in Ottawa, Canada. The challenge of the conference is to try to imagine what life in Canada’s North will be like in 2030, and to devise a plan to deal with that new reality.
Last night, the conference opened with an address by Inuit leader, Sheila Watt Cloutier. She has won many environmental prizes around the world for her work on negotiating an international treaty on toxic chemicals. Her work now focuses very much on what she sees as the biggest challenge now facing her people, and people across the northern world. This is how she describes the size and impact of that problem; “Climate change is changing who we are, where we come from, and where we want to be.”
Watt-Cloutier described the several changes she has already seen in her life from climate change. She spoke of seeing her childhood home in northern Quebec change from a landscape of small shrubs to one of tall trees. She also spoke of less benign changes, of the challenges that disappearing sea ice pose to a culture that relies on sea ice as a highway and hunting ground.
Watt Cloutier also talked about her concerns about the increasing friction in the Arctic, and its increasing militarization. While she is not opposed to the military, she believes sovereignty is best achieved by keeping the sea ice frozen. If the Arctic seas remain frozen, there is no argument about who owns tights of passage through them, no need to guard against marine incursions by other countries.
The sea ice is likely to continue melting, even if governments begin to take urgent and effective action on climate change, a fact Watt Cloutier acknowledges. This is why she is proposing a treaty for the Arctic, a treaty that would include the Arctic’s Indigenous peoples in an international agreement to jointly manage resources. She argues that Indigenous peoples, as people who know the northern environment best, are best suited to exercise a role of stewardship of the north.