Inuit File Petition with Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Claiming Global Warming Caused by United States Is Destroying Their Culture and Livelihoods

December 7, 2005

MONTREAL —  Ms. Sheila Watt-Cloutier, the elected Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), today announced that a petition has been filed with the Washington, DC-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The petition seeks relief from violations of the human rights of Inuit resulting from global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions from the United States. The petition is the result of a multi-year collaborative effort by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), Earthjustice, and the ICC.

The Commission, which was created in 1959 by the Organization of American States, has a distinguished history of protecting human rights, particularly its greenhouse gas emissions, the United States has caused the Earth’s climate to change. This change has been most dramatic in the Arctic, which has warmed in some regions as much as 7 Fahrenheit.

Impacts on the Inuit have been devastating. Retreating sea ice has exposed Inuit villages to the eroding forces of wind and waves, causing their homes to topple into the sea. Thawing permafrost has caused their roads to buckle and building foundations to crumble. Experienced hunters have fallen through ice that appeared safe, resulting in injury and death.

The resources upon which the Inuit depend are also at grave risk. Polar bears, walrus, and ice-dwelling seals could go extinct before the end of this century, due to the loss of sea ice.

The 163-page petition is supported by testimony from 63 named Inuit from Alaska and northern Canada. Drawing upon the traditional knowledge of hunters and elders and wide-ranging peer reviewed science, the petition documents existing, ongoing, and projected destruction of the Arctic environment and the culture and hunting-based economy of Inuit caused by global warming.

The petition is amply supported by the 2004 Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) (available at prepared over a four-year period by more than 300 scientists from 15 countries and six Indigenous peoples concluded:

The Arctic is extremely vulnerable to observed and projected climate change and its impacts. The Arctic is now experiencing some of the most rapid and severe climate change on earth. Over the next 100 years, climate change is expected to accelerate, contributing to major physical, ecological, social and economic changes, many of which have already begun. Changes in arctic climate will also affect the rest of the world through increased global warming and rising sea levels.

CIEL Senior Attorney Donald Goldberg noted that the harm Inuit are experiencing today will soon be felt by people around the globe. “No country can protect itself from the damage that inevitably will result as the Earth
undergoes changes never before experienced in human history,” observed Mr. Goldberg. “The hurricanes of 2005 demonstrate beyond doubt that even the world’s wealthiest nations are at grave risk.”

The petition focuses on the United States of America because it is by far the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and it refuses to adopt meaningful domestic measures or join the international effort to reduce emissions. The petition asks the Commission to hold hearings in Alaska and northern Canada to investigate the harm caused to Inuit by global warming. Specifically, the petition asks the Commission to declare the United States in violation of rights affirmed in the 1948 American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and other instruments of international law.

The petition urges the Commission to recommend that the United States adopt mandatory limits to its emissions of greenhouse gases and cooperate with the community of nations to “prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system,” the objective of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. As well, the petition requests the Commission declare that the United States has an obligation to work with Inuit to develop a plan to help Inuit adapt to unavoidable impacts of climate change and to take into account the impact of its emissions on the Arctic and Inuit before approving all major government actions.

Ms. Watt-Cloutier explained that the Inuit filed their petition “not in a spirit of confrontation-that is not the Inuit way-but as a means
of inviting and promoting dialogue. Our purpose is to educate, not criticize, and to inform, not condemn.”

“I invite the United States of America to respond positively to our petition,” Ms. Watt-Cloutier said. “As well, I invite governments and non-governmental organizations worldwide to support our petition and to never forget that, ultimately, climate change is a matter of human rights.”