By Shailagh Keaney
The Dominion – http://www.dominionpaper.ca/
Photo: Angela Sterritt
MONTREAL—On March 28 Indigenous leaders and environmental activists called for a moratorium on Arctic oil and gas exploration, as Foreign Affairs Ministers from Canada, Norway, Denmark, Russia and the United States met at the “Arctic Summit” in Chelsea, Quebec to discuss their plans for the resource-rich North.
Canada has acknowledged its interest in metals, oil and gas in the Arctic, which the melting sea ice is opening up to exploration. But critics are expressing concerns about the impact of Arctic industrialization on Indigenous peoples and the climate.
“New oil and gas development is anything but responsible in the face of a very serious climate crisis,” says Andrea Harden, Energy Campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “It is no small irony that increased access to exploit reserves in the fragile Arctic Ocean ecosystem is largely the result of melting sea ice.”
The Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), the Alaska-based Resisting Environmental Destruction On Indigenous Lands (REDOIL) and the Council of Canadians travelled to the Arctic Summit to deliver their appeal for a moratorium on oil exploration.
According to a joint press release issued by the IEN, REDOIL and the Council of Canadians, 90 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas have been discovered in the arctic. Clayton Thomas-Muller of IEN is concerned that talk of developing oil and gas reserves in the north is just part of a larger initiative to exploit the world’s remaining natural resources.
“The Arctic development plan is part of an ongoing psychotic initiative lead by the G8/G20 nations to exploit the world’s last remaining pristine ecosystems for energy [and] for raw resources,” explains Thomas-Muller.
According to past communiques, G8 meetings have explicitly encouraged the development of new oil reserves. A new resolution to phase out G20 country subsidies to oil companies was passed at a G20 meeting last September but the resolution lacked any time-frame for action.
Thomas-Muller was also concerned by the lack of Native representation at the Arctic Summit considering the difficulties Inuit people face as a result of oil and gas exploration.
“Indigenous peoples in the circumpolar region are the true canaries in the coal mine when we think about the global climate crisis,” Thomas-Muller explains. “They carry a disproportionate impact from the global climate crisis and then are doubly impacted by the immense presence of unsustainable energy development in that region.”
Inuit have observed changes in animal populations and behaviour, thinning sea ice and unpredictable weather patterns. An Inuit hunter was stranded in January when the ice floe he was on broke off and started to drift in the Northwest Passage.