December 10, 2003 Milan, ItalySheila Watt-Cloutier, the elected Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), spoke today to media, non-governmental organizations, and states attending the ninth Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Milan, Italy.

Representing the 155,000 Inuit who live in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Chukotka in theFar East of the Russian Federation and living in Iqaluit, the capital of Canadas NunavutTerritory, she stressed the need to bring a human face to the global proceedings. Existing and projected social and cultural impacts in the Arctic as a result of human-induced global climate change are significant, dramatic and increasing.

Ms. Watt-Cloutier said; The human rights of Inuit are under threat as a result of human-induced climate change. ICC will defend the human rights of Inuit. We are exploring how best to do this, likely through the Inter-American system invoking the 1948 American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man.

She added: Inuit hunters understand natures rhythms and cycles. Their environmental knowledge is detailed and accurate, and is passed down from generation to generation. But many Inuit hunters now find the weather unpredictable and traveling over the sea-ice dangerous. Hunters are being lost through the sea-ice in areas that, traditionally, have been safe.

Scientists agree that climate change is amplified in the Arctic and that what happens now in this region will happen globally in coming years. The Arctic is the worlds climate change barometer. In consequence, the Governing Council of the United Nations Programme (UNEP) earlier this year called for increased environmental monitoring in the Arctic.

Reflecting these concerns, the eight Arctic nationsCanada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland,Norway, Sweden, Russia, and the United States of America initiated through the Arctic Council in October 2000 the worlds most comprehensive and detailed regional assessment of climate change. Scheduled to report in September 2004 to ministers of foreign affairs, this assessment makes stark reading.

Toward the end of the century massive depletion of multi-year sea-ice is projected with much of the Arctic becoming ice-free in Summer. With habitat fundamentally altered, marine mammals including polar bear, walrus, and ringed and other species of seal are projected to virtually disappear. These are key species hunted by Inuit, providing food for families across the Arctic. Ms. Watt-Cloutier said: Where will we go then for food? What will then become of Inuit? What is at stake here is the cultural survival of Inuit as a people.

We encourage states, particularly the United States of America, to reduce significantly emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. She added: Time is running out for the Arctic. We need far-reaching, long-term global commitments to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases if the Arctic is to be protected and if our human rights, particularly our human rights to subsistence, are to be respected.

Ms. Watt-Cloutier noted: I am in Milan to share our concerns and to seek the support and help of governments and non-governmental organizations. Inuit are small in number and we engage in the politics of influence not the politics of protest. Our fate and yours are one and the same. We hope all will heed our: Voice from the North.

She concluded: We do not invoke our human rights in an adversarial spirit. That is not the Inuit way. The Arctic states account for 40 percent of the worlds greenhouse gas emissions, so it is appropriate to use our human rights to prompt a dialogue with Arctic states, particularly the United States of America. It is our intent to educate not criticize, and to inform, not complain. By defending our human rights we will help the world achieve the unity and clarity of purpose it needs to tackle global climate change.

For further information:

In Milan
Mr. Paul Crowley, tel.: 348 241 0348

In Canada
Ms. Sheila Watt-Cloutier, tel: 867-979-4661;
Mr. Paul Crowley, tel: 867-979-3396;
Dr. Terry Fenge, tel: 613-722-7006.