Whitehorse, Yukon and Washington, D.C. —Today, the Arctic Athabaskan Council filed a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, asking the Commission to declare that Canada is undermining the human rights of Athabaskan peoples by poorly regulating emissions of black carbon, or soot, a short-lived climate pollutant which contributes significantly to Arctic warming and melting. Readily available emissions reduction measures could substantially slow Arctic warming and melting and protect Athabaskan rights.
“Our homelands are warming. We have experienced rain in December which never happened when I was a child,” said Grand Chief Ruth Massie of the Arctic Athabaskan Council, which represents Athabaskan peoples in Canada and Alaska. “The rain is causing flooding and eroding our river banks. Our glaciers are melting. Permafrost is melting everywhere. It is no longer safe for our people to travel on the land in winter because the ice doesn’t freeze solid. We have more trees dying off, and I notice the depletion of animals more and more.”
The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Scientists now believe that reducing emissions of short-lived climate pollutants like black carbon emissions is the best, and perhaps only, way to slow Arctic warming and melting in the next few decades. Black carbon is a component of fine particle pollution, or soot, a conventional air pollutant category regulated to protect public health.
“This petition is an urgent call for action from Arctic Athabaskan peoples,” said Erika Rosenthal, an attorney with Earthjustice. “Canada has the opportunity to protect the rights guaranteed to Athabaskan peoples in the Inter-American human rights system by implementing available black carbon emissions reduction measures to slow the rapid warming that degrades the Arctic environment. Arctic warming and melting is dramatically damaging the environment and natural resources that are the heart of Arctic Athabaskan peoples’ lives, livelihoods and culture.”
For the Arctic, black carbon reductions are a priority. Black carbon warms both in the atmosphere by absorbing incoming sunlight, and again when it falls on ice and snow, accelerating melting. Measures to reduce emissions taken in or near the Arctic, such as in Canada, have been identified by scientists as a priority as the emissions are more likely to deposit on Arctic snow and ice. Major sources of black carbon include diesel engines, gas flaring and biomass burning from agriculture and other sectors. Technologies and practices exist now to significantly reduce emissions if widely implemented.
“The petition puts a human face to the crisis of Arctic warming and melting, demonstrating the significant impacts on the lives, culture and health of Canadian families,” says Hugh Wilkins of Ecojustice. “The Canadian government should take swift, immediate action to slow warming and melting in the Arctic North, starting with stronger regulations that require reductions in black carbon emissions, before the extent of this human tragedy worsens.”