UN maritime body listens to Arctic Indigenous voices

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Six Arctic Indigenous leaders and representatives of environmental groups meet with IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim in London. Oct. 25, 2016. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Dumbrille)
Six Arctic Indigenous leaders and representatives of environmental groups meet with IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim in London. Oct. 25, 2016. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Dumbrille)
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) in London heard this week from Arctic Indigenous leaders who lobbied the UN body for a permanent seat at the table and spoke about their concerns over the impact of increased shipping on the environment and the food security of northern communities.

Six Arctic Indigenous leaders from Alaska, Canada, and Russia, accompanied by representatives of an environmental coalition campaigning for sustainable shipping practices in the circumpolar regions, had a meeting with the IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim and participated in the shipping regulator’s Marine Environment Protection Committee plenary sessions.

Tagak Curley of Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, said each one of them talked about the potential impacts of increased Arctic shipping on their community.

Worried about ‘catastrophic incident’ with HFO
Tagak Curley of Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, and Hans Lennie of Inuvik, N.W.T. represented Canadian Arctic communities at the IMO meeting in London in October 2016. (Photo: Andrew Dumbrille)
Tagak Curley of Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, and Hans Lennie of Inuvik, N.W.T. at the IMO meeting in London in October 2016. (Photo: Andrew Dumbrille)

“We each made our cases,” Curley said in a telephone interview from London. “From Canada’s side we indicated food security, as well as that heavy oil used by major vessels should be banned from the Arctic. We have the most to lose because the food security of our community is depended primarily on the sea mammals.”

Canadian Inuit are worried about the environmental impact of “a potential catastrophic incident” such as a major oil spill from a ship that uses heavy fuel oil, said Curley, a founding member and the first president of the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, a non-profit organization in that represents over 60,000 Canadian Inuit.

The issue of heavy fuel oil (HFO) was discussed by the IMO on Friday.

“It’s clear from deliberations at the IMO today, heavy fuel oil use by ships in the Arctic will be on the agenda for potential future phase out,” said Andrew Dumbrille, senior specialist in sustainable shipping at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Canada.

In an unusual intervention, the IMO secretary-general echoed comments from Canada, U.S., France, Sweden, Iceland, the Netherlands, Finland and Norway in calling for serious efforts by member states of the IMO in dealing with the risks and impacts from the use of “the world’s dirtiest fuel, HFO,” Dumbrille said.

“Commitments from Arctic states and others at this week’s IMO meeting, along with the historic decision to maintain the 2020 cap on sulphur emissions, has set the table for transitioning away from HFO,” Dumbrille said. “It’s now time for concrete action from the IMO and the development of a workplan to set a timeline to phase out HFO in the Arctic.”

Impact of shipping on food security

Arctic Indigenous groups are also worried that noise, pollution and disturbances created by increased shipping traffic will have serious impacts on food security of northern communities that rely on sea mammals for sustenance.

“These are the issues that we are the most qualified to speak on because our wildlife, our sea mammals, they are all going to be impacted by increased traffic,” Curley said. “We are here to tell our side of the story… We have the most to lose.”

Lancaster Sound is home to 75 per cent of the world’s narwhal whales and the Canadian Arctic’s richest concentration of marine mammals. (Mario Cyr / Nature Conservancy of Canada)
Canada’s Inuit are worried about the impact of increased shipping on migration routes of marine mammals such as these narwhal whales. Lancaster Sound is home to 75 per cent of the world’s narwhal whales and the Canadian Arctic’s richest concentration of marine mammals. (Mario Cyr / Nature Conservancy of Canada)

Increased shipping traffic is already affecting marine mammals such as belugas, narwhals and bearded seals the Inuit depend on for survival, Curley said.

The noise emitted by large vessels disturbs marine mammals and forces them to change their migration routes, making it more difficult for hunters to get to them, Curley said.

“As soon as the ice opens up, the belugas and narwhals, and bearded seals, and smaller seals they are heading into their breeding areas,” Curley said. “So the moment the increased traffic happens, our food security is impacted, so that has to be taken into consideration by the IMO.”

Permanent Arctic voice

The Arctic Indigenous leaders from Alaska, Russia and Canada will continue to lobby the IMO to have a permanent voice in the UN body, Curley said.

In the meantime, they will keep their informal discussions going on every month to make sure they share information and coordinate their actions, Curley said.

“The Arctic voice is very important,” he said. “It’s been heard now. It’s not going to stop.”

Related stories from around the North:

Canada:

Canada: Arctic Indigenous leaders to push for permanent voice in world maritime body, Eye on the Arctic

Canada:  Report urges creation of new governance structure for oversight of Arctic shipping, Radio Canada International

China: Chinese company mulls more Arctic shipping, Barents Observer

Iceland: Calls for action at Arctic shipping conference, Alaska Dispatch News

Russia:  Arctic cruise industry expands, Cryopolitics Blog

Sweden: Swedish icebreakers gear up for Arctic role, Radio Sweden

United States:  Arctic no shipping rival to Suez: expert, Alaska Public Radio Network

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Levon Sevunts

Levon Sevunts, Radio Canada International

Born and raised in Armenia, Levon started his journalistic career in 1990, covering wars and civil strife in the Caucasus and Central Asia. In 1992, after the government in Armenia shut down the TV program he was working for, Levon immigrated to Canada. He learned English and eventually went back to journalism, working first in print and then in broadcasting. Levon’s journalistic assignments have taken him from the High Arctic to Sahara and the killing fields of Darfur, from the streets of Montreal to the snow-capped mountaintops of Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. He says, “But best of all, I’ve been privileged to tell the stories of hundreds of people who’ve generously opened up their homes, refugee tents and their hearts to me.”

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