Arctic people threatened by melting sea ice

Posted: 21 November 2002

Global warming is posing growing threats to the culture, economy and way of life of Inuit communities, according to the conservation organization WWF and the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC).

New research has shown that there was less sea ice in the Arctic in the summer of 2002 than ever before - evidence of the impact of global warming in the Arctic.

The record low levels of sea ice in the Arctic were observed by scientists working for the National Snow and Ice Data Canter (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado, in the United States. The area of arctic sea ice in August was 6 per cent less than the previous minimum records set in 1995 and 1998, and 20 per cent below the 24-year average. Rising temperatures are blamed for the rapid ice melt.

"Because we are a people who are on the land and snow every single day we witness the most minute of changes," said Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Chair of ICC.

"The record sea ice lows this summer is further evidence that we are in danger of losing our traditional ways of life. We depend on subsistence hunting to survive. If the ice goes, our way of life goes with it."

The extent of arctic sea ice varies throughout the year, growing to its maximum during late winter and melting back to a minimum by late summer. Due to warming of the world's oceans caused by climate change, the sea ice cover in the Arctic has decreased by about 14 per cent since the 1970s.

Twentieth century data for the Arctic show a warming trend of as much as 5° Celsius. Less sea ice in the Arctic means that the animals on which indigenous people depend for survival, such as whales, walrus and seals, will migrate away from traditional hunting grounds.

WWF and the ICC, the organisation that defends the rights and furthers the interests of 155,000 Inuit residing in Alaska, Canada, Chukotka (Russia), and Greenland, believe that unless national and international measures are taken to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which cause global warming, and to prepare for the impact of global warming on Inuit and other Arctic peoples, then indigenous peoples' traditional ways of life, culture and economies could be lost forever.

"Canada and Russia need to ratify the Kyoto Protocol to reduce CO2 emissions now," said Lynn Rosentrater, WWF's Arctic Climate Scientist.

"These countries have some of the largest populations of indigenous people in the Arctic and they are failing them. WWF and ICC call for reductions of greenhouse gas emissions to levels where they do not damage people. This new research is proof that damage is precisely what will occur unless Canada and Russia act now."

Source: WWF press release