Vienna, April 16 – Climate change and the industrial development it allows in the Arctic region threaten the way of life of the indigenous peoples of that region and led their leaders to come together and issue a declaration in Moscow calling on business, governments and the international community to take steps now to protect their communities from destruction.
This week, the fifth summit of leaders of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic region took place in Moscow, the latest indication of the ways in which these peoples are working together to share information and attract international attention, even when they remain in many cases politically marginal in their own countries.
And by so doing, the indigenous peoples are putting themselves in a position to a play a greater role in Arctic affairs collectively than they would individually as economic and geopolitical competition among the seven Arctic powers and other states with interests there heats up, something that may complicate the lives of businesses and governments involved.
That is especially true for the indigenous peoples of the Russian High North not only because Russia has the largest number of such people and because that country is going to be affected earlier and more severely than any other by the impact of global warming and the economic development it permits.
Representatives from the indigenous peoples of the seven Arctic countries adopted a resolution on “The Industrial Development of the Arctic as a Result of Climate Change: New Challenges for the Indigenous Peoples” outlining their concerns and presenting their demands (www.raipon.info/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=876:2010-04-16-03-21-02&catid=1:2009-03-11-15-49-27).
Having noted that they came together in Moscow April 14-15 to discuss “the perspectives of the development of our peoples in connection with increasing industrial development of the Arctic under conditions of climate change,” the representatives of that region’s indigenous peoples suggested that the situation in their home areas was becoming critical.
“The industrialization of the Arctic in combination with climate change intensifies the existing and gives rise to new threats and risks for the life of the indigenous residents of the Arctic regions.” Not only does warming melt the permafrost and thus threaten areas where the Arctic peoples live, but it also leads to the spread of new diseases among them.
Moreover, the industrial development which climate warming allows leads to pollution, the introduction of new populations from outside the region, and the displacement of the indigenous peoples. But “the greatest danger” from such development, the statement says, involves “unknown and unpredictable changes” which may prove “fatal” for the Arctic.
Obviously, the leaders of these communities say, no one is going to prevent the economic development of the Arctic region. It is simply too rich a place. But they say that it is imperative that the businesses, governments and international community carefully consider the impact of such development and be prepared to compensate those who may suffer as a result.
And the leaders of the indigenous peoples call on all Arctic governments “to ratify and fulfill the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” a document that specifies any development of that region must take into account the needs of the peoples of that region and protect their traditional way of life.