IMO hears concerns from Arctic indigenous leaders
Last month, six Arctic indigenous representatives from Alaska, Canada and Russia traveled to London and addressed the International Maritime Organization during their Marine Environment Protection Committee meeting, speaking of the impacts of increased shipping on their communities.
Kawerak’s Marine Advocate Austin Ahmasuk was one of the panelists speaking to the IMO about the realities of living in the Arctic as the specter of increased shipping traffic causes concern in subsistence communities reliant on a healthy environment and abundant marine life. “I believe that I was able to clearly present to this body that never heard from Arctic indigenous people the importance of our lives, our environment and I think we were able to convince the Secretary General that Arctic indigenous perspectives are very important,” Ahmasuk said.
Ahmasuk said he was asked to be part of the delegation that was formed in partnership with various groups including the Pacific Environment, WWF, Friends of the Earth International, Kawerak Inc., Bristol Bay Native Association, Inuvik Hunters and Trappers Committee and the Chukotka Marine Mammal Hunters Association. The panelists were Tagak Curley from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, Canada; Hans Lennie from the Canadian Beaufort region in Inuvik; Eduard Zdor, former director of the Chukotka Marine Mammal Hunters Association located in the Russian Far East; Nikolay Ettyne, leader in the Russian Chukchi community and Secretary of Chukotka Marine Mammal Hunters Association; Verner Wilson III from Dillingham; and Austin Ahmasuk of Nome.
The panelists presented in short testimonials the safety and environmental impact of shipping on the arctic as receding sea ice increasingly allows for increased ship traffic in the Arctic regions. The IMO is the international body that sets international shipping law and adopted the Polar Code with certain measures that spell out construction and other requirements for ships operating in Arctic and Antarctic waters, provides for safe ship operation and protects the environment by addressing the unique risks present in polar waters but not covered by other treaties.
The Polar Code will take effect in January 2017.
According to Senior Arctic Program officer Sue Libenson with the organization Pacific Environment, the IMO considered a paper titled “Arctic indigenous food security and shipping.” The paper, submitted by several non-governmental organizations, finds that Arctic indigenous communities’ food security is inextricably tied to the bounty of the sea and threatened by increased shipping. Another paper addressed the use of heavy fuel oil. Libenson said the two concerns are the possibility of a heavy fuel oil spill, which could cause long-term damage to the environment, and secondly the concern about emissions as black soot settles on sea ice and contributes even further to Arctic warming.
According to Libenson, the US and Canadian delegations to the IMO have signaled that they intend to bring forward efforts to address regulation and risks regarding heavy fuel oils in the future. However, the process is lengthy and it will take time to formulate regulations that would be adopted by the IMO body.
Ahmasuk said that he had the chance to meet with IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim one-on-one.
He was especially pleased that the Arctic panelists’ testimony in front of the IMO body, at a personal reception with the Secretary General and a meeting called “Arctic Voices”, which representatives from 30 countries attended, was well received. “We fired on all cylinders,” said Ahmasuk. The result was an educational eye-opener for the IMO delegates, who have never considered the link between a healthy Arctic environment and food security for people living there. “These people have never considered food security,” said Libenson.
Libenson added that the Arctic panelists left a deep impact also on Secretary General Lim. “He did something very unusual,” Libenson said. The Secretary General made a very personal statement on the importance of hearing indigenous Arctic people and their inclusion.
The US and Canadian delegations followed commitments to reduce the risks of heavy fuel oil in the Arctic referenced in the U.S. Canada Joint Statement on Climate, Energy, and Arctic Leadership signed during the March summit between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The US delegation head Jefferey Lantz also offered to the Alaskan indigenous leaders that they could be part of the delegation to the IMO at any time.
According to the publication MarineLink, IMO Secretary General Lim expressed his appreciation to the leaders for meeting him and providing their valuable input. Lim reiterated his support for United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s recent address to the Arctic Circle Assembly, in which he highlighted the importance of the UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples as “our inspiration for how to recognize and respect indigenous peoples through our actions and initiatives”. Ki-moon stressed the importance of indigenous inclusion. “What happens in the Arctic affects us all,” he said. “But let us remember those on the front lines: the many indigenous peoples who have lived here for centuries. They contribute to the Arctic’s diversity and sustainable resource management. Yet as with developing countries, those who have contributed least to climate change are being hit first and hardest by serious consequences for their safety, health and human rights.”