Inuit hunters have Washington in their sites

Eco-campaigner and Inuit leader Sheila Watt-Cloutier has warned that the indigenous people of the Arctic plan to take action against the United States for destroying their homelands and way of life by refusing to address climate change.

Watt-Cloutier was speaking as she collected the $100,000 Sophie Prize in Oslo, one of the world’s most prestigious and generous environmental awards set up in 1997 by Norwegian author and philosopher Jostein Gaarder and his wife Siri Dannevig.

She received the award for bringing Arctic and Inuit perspectives to global attention, highlighting the link between climate change, pollution and their huge impact they have on the human rights of those wishing to live traditionally as hunters and herders.

She has campaigned hard for the elimination of contaminants which cross national boundaries, many of which end up at the poles, particularly persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

Accepting the prize on behalf of the Inuit, Watt-Cloutier said: “I am honoured to receive this prize.

“Inuit have survived in what people consider to be a harsh environment for millennia.

“We have learned to live with the natural environment, to appreciate its rhythms and cycles, and to understand that all of us are connected both to the environment and to each other.

“The Arctic is the world’s barometer of environmental health and it is telling us that the world is fast getting warmer and that ecosystems and cultures are at risk.”

She called on the G8 leaders to take real action to combat climate change and used the prize ceremony as a platform to raise awareness of the plans of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), which she chairs, to file a petition against the US Government for infringing their human rights.

The ICC argues that by refusing to take adequate steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions Washington is hastening climate change and the destruction of the Inuits’ way of life.

The petition has been in the pipeline since 1992 and will be presented to the Organisation of American States (OAS), a 34-member strong body of countries from Chile to Canada promoting cooperation throughout the Americas.

While the OAS has no power to order the US to reduce its emissions, its human rights branch would investigate the ICC’s claims and file a report.

If it found in favour of the Inuit claim this would cause further political embarrassment for Washington over climate change and increase pressure on the administration to take action.

By Sam Bond

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie