On April 23, 2013, 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.
The following telepress conference, featuring Grand Chief Ruth Massie, Earthjustice's Erika Rosenthal, and Hugh Wilkins of Ecojustice Canada, was held the morning the petition was filed:
Kari Birdseye: Good morning and thank you all for joining us today. I'm Kari Birdseye, National Press Secretary at Earthjustice. We're here to discuss climate change in the Arctic: what can be done to slow the rapid melting and warming in the region, and the news today that the Arctic Athabaskan Council has filed a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to urge Canada to reduce emissions of the short-lived climate pollutant black carbon. As you know, scientists have told us that reducing black carbon, or soot, emissions is perhaps the best way to slow Arctic warming and melting in the coming decades.
Joining us today is Grand Chief Ruth Massie, Grand Chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations and a board member of the Arctic Athabaskan Council. Also with us is Erika Rosenthal, an attorney with Earthjustice, the public interest nonprofit U.S. environmental law organization representing Arctic Athabaskan Council on this petition. And Hugh Wilkins with Ecojustice, a charitable environmental law organization in Canada which is co-counsel on the petition.
After the speakers' comments, we'll be opening up the line to take your questions. If you have a question, please touch 1 on your touch tone phone. Also, the speakers will be available after the call. This presentation will be recorded and available on the Earthjustice and Ecojustice websites.
Let's begin with Grand Chief Ruth Massie. Can you explain why the Athabaskan communities have filed this petition?
Grand Chief Ruth Massie: Good morning. It's Grand Chief Ruth Massie speaking from Whitehorse, Yukon in northern Canada. As a board member, I am speaking on behalf of the Arctic Athabaskan Council, which represents Athabaskan people in Canada and Alaska.
Today the Arctic Athabaskan Council is announcing that we have filed a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. We are asking the Commission to declare that Canada is contravening the human rights of Athabaskan peoples by inadequately regulating emissions of black carbon, which contributes significantly to climate changes in northern Canada, our homeland.
Black carbon, also known as soot, is an important short-lived climate pollutant. Scientists believe reducing these emissions is the best way to slow warming and melting in the Arctic in the coming decades.
Arctic warming is undermining our people's right to culture, property, health, subsistence, and environment that are guaranteed in the 1948 Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, which has been signed by the government of Canada.
We are requesting the Commission to recommend to the government of Canada that it ensure emissions of black carbon are reduced. This will require action by Canada's national, provincial, and territorial governments. Our legal counsel, Erika Rosenthal of Earthjustice and Hugh Wilkins of Ecojustice, will explain the details of our petition. Before they do, let me bring your attention to some of the impacts of climate change on our traditional lifestyle and the cultures of Athabaskan peoples.
Every year, we experience warmer temperatures. We've even seen rain in December, which never happened when I was a child. There is more flooding and riverbank erosion, and the permafrost and glaciers are melting. The warmer weather makes it more dangerous for our people to travel on the land. The ice is not safe anymore. We notice the depletion of wildlife and fish more and more, and these species are critical to our people's diet and culture. Our trees are dying off due to bug infestation. The larvae survive the warmer winters.
Many Athabaskan people still live off the land part of the year—hunting, fishing, and gathering. This is essential for our health and subsistence. Sharing traditional country food is fundamental to our culture. Our people can no longer rely on traditional foods to harvest because it's too dangerous to be out on the land. We witness the changes every day.
Arctic warming has made the weather, the hunt, and the behaviors and location of fish and wildlife so unpredictable that our elders no longer feel confident teaching younger people traditional ways. If we cannot effectively pass on our traditional ways to the younger generations, we fear for what will happen to our culture.
The Arctic Athabaskan Council is filing this petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to urge Canada to reduce emissions of the short-lived climate pollutant black carbon, which scientists have told us is a key strategy to slow Arctic warming and melting in the coming decades.
I represent Athabaskan peoples here in the North, but our petition is for all citizens of Canada and other countries who share in our vision and commitment to protect Mother Earth.
Kari: Thank you, Grand Chief Massie. Let's now talk to Erika Rosenthal about the importance of reducing black carbon to slow the rapid warming and melting in the Arctic. It's infringing on Athabasakan people's human rights. Erika?
Erika Rosenthal: Thank you, Kari, and good morning, everyone. The Arctic has warmed more than twice as fast as the rest of the planet. The annual mean surface temperature is now more than 2.28 degrees Celsius above the average for the period between 1950 and 1980. We all took note last summer when Arctic Sea ice retreated to record lows, to less than fifty percent of the ice extent in 1979 when satellite measure began.
This dramatic melting is taking place across the continental Arctic as well. Environment Canada reported that over the past forty years, spring snow cover has declined at a rate even faster than sea ice retreat. The government of Canada projects the temperature increase for the western Canadian Arctic will range between six and sixteen degrees Celsius by 2080, which is a stunning figure.
Scientists now believe that reducing emissions of short-lived climate pollutants like black carbon 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 pollution category regulated to protect public health. It is a potent climate forcer, emitted from diesel engines and agricultural burning, among other sources.
As Grand Chief Massie described, Arctic Athabaskan people experience the effects of rapid Arctic warming and melting every day. Arctic warming harms and degrades the environment and natural resources, the land, plants, and animals that are at the heart of Athabaskan people's lives, livelihoods, and culture.
Canada's poor regulation of black carbon contributes to the rapid Arctic warming that is infringing upon the human rights guaranteed to the Athabaskan peoples in the Inter-American Human Rights system. These rights include the right to the benefits of culture, the right to property, the right to health and to one's own means of subsistence. Canada has an obligation under international law to protect Athabaskan people against environmental harm resulting from rapid Arctic warming. It undermines their human rights.
Scientists have recently estimated that black carbon's warming effect on the global climate is second only to that of carbon dioxide. In the Arctic, black carbon has been identified as a particular problem because it warms twice: first in the air absorbing sunlight and heating the atmosphere, and then again when it falls onto ice and snow and accelerates melting.
Black carbon emissions from within or near the Arctic, which is defined as north of forty degrees, are more potent climate forcers because they have a greater chance of depositing on Arctic ice and snow. This means that measures to reduce emissions taken in or near the Arctic, such as across Canada, have a particularly great beneficial impact in slowing warming.
Although deep cuts in CO2 emissions remain the backbone of efforts needed to limit the long-term consequences of climate change, CO2's hundred-year lifespan means its reduction alone will not revert further dramatic changes to the Arctic. But because black carbon is a short-lived climate pollutant, remaining in the atmosphere for only about a week, reducing emissions provides near, immediate climate benefit.
Fortunately, there's much that Canada can do. In fact, a 2011 assessment by the United Nations Environment Program detailed measures to reduce emissions of black carbon and methane and other short-lived climate pollutants that, if widely implemented, could reduce future Arctic warming by two-thirds by 2040. Canada should do everything within its power to implement such measures nationally. My colleague Hugh Wilkins of Ecojustice in Toronto will be talking in a minute about the specific measures Canada should take.
The petition filed today by the Arctic Athabaskan Council is an urgent call to protect the rights of Athabaskan people by asking Canada to reduce its black carbon emissions to slow Arctic warming and melting. Canada has an obligation under international human rights law to act now. Of course, the Arctic Athabaskan Council petition also aims to help protect us all. Slowing Arctic warming and melting will slow the rise in extreme weather and sea level around the world. For that, I thank the Council for their action today. Thank you.
Kari: Thank you, Erika. We're going to turn now to Hugh Wilkins of Ecojustice. He'll tell us why Canada's existing regulations are insufficient and what the Arctic Athabaskan Council wants the government of Canada to do to correct the situation. Hugh?
Hugh Wilkins: Thank you, Kari, and good morning, everyone. I'd like to briefly talk about what Canada should be doing to regulate black carbon and why existing Canadian laws are simply not enough.
Canada needs an overarching strategy to address black carbon. Canadian black carbon emissions, excluding open and natural sources, are expected to increase by twenty-six percent above 2005 levels by 2030. That's twenty-six percent by 2030. We need measures to specifically limit black carbon emissions in Canada's main emissions sectors and areas. We need air pollution laws that are coordinated, comprehensive, and attentive to the needs of Canada's aboriginal peoples. We need laws that protect the Athabaskan peoples from both the health and climate impacts of black carbon.
Now, despite the significant amount of new black carbon science out there, Canada has failed to take adequate regulatory action. Its air quality statutes did not provide comprehensive or sufficient regulation of fine particle matter pollution, of which black carbon emissions are a part. Canada does not have a comprehensive federal statute that effectively addresses particle pollution and black carbon across those sectors. Instead, we have uncoordinated federal and provincial laws skirting around the issue.
Black carbon emissions come from various sources. Sufficiently regulating those emissions requires coordinated, comprehensive emissions controls across a number of sectors and areas, including transportation and agriculture and domestic heating.
Most Canadian regulation of fine particle pollution is piecemeal and has been promulgated on the provincial level. This has led to considerable inconsistencies and gaps. There are variations in the level of emissions regulation, both in terms of comprehensiveness and strictness of standards. Some sources are regulated to some extent, others not at all. Some of these sources are regulated in certain provinces but not in others. And some standards are voluntary and thus offer no means of recourse against failure to comply with them.
We need regulations that address black carbon emissions from stationary diesel engines and from older on-road vehicles. We need better regulations on gas flaring, and we need more programs that provide incentives for people to retrofit older wooden stoves and purchase cleaner, more efficient models. We need high, harmonized emissions standards that address the total impacts of emissions from all sources. We need stronger federal and provincial leadership. This is an issue that is ripe for discussion by the Council of the Federation to ensure more coordinated action, specifically black carbon across Canadian jurisdictions.
Canada lacks efficient controls on black carbon emissions. It has failed to take adequate regulatory action. Coordinated and comprehensive regulation of these emissions will benefit all Canadians. Accelerated warming in the Arctic is undermining the Arctic Athabaskan people's enjoyment of their human rights now, at this very moment. Canada has a duty to act, and we hope this petition will inspire the government to do so.
Kari: Thank you, Hugh. Let's go back to Grand Chief Ruth Massie now to wrap things up. Grand Chief Massie, now that the Arctic Athabaskan Council has filed the petition, what are your hopes going forward?
Grand Chief Ruth Massie: Going forward, I stress to you our accelerated Arctic warming is undermining my people's rights to culture, property, health, and subsistence that are guaranteed in the 1948 Declaration on the Rights and Duties of the Man, which our government, the government of Canada, has signed.
We petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to recommend to the government of Canada that it ensures emissions of black carbon are significantly reduced, sooner than later. This will require action by Canada's national, provincial, and territorial governments.
I want to stress that reducing black carbon emissions is one of the best ways, according to scientists, that we can slow climate change in the North.
Let me finish by saying that we mount this petition in the spirit of cooperation. We want to work with, not against, the government of Canada. We want our petition to inform, not antagonize, our government. Combating climate change is surely the issue of our time, and it is in this light that the Arctic Athabaskan Council invites all Canadians and other countries to work to protect our Arctic. Today, I thank you for your attention and interest to this important filing of our petition.
Kari: Please thank all of our presenters and everyone for joining us today.
If you have additional questions or would like more information, please contact me +1 (415) 217-2098. A recording of this presentation will be available at earthjustice.org and ecojustice.ca very soon.
Thank you and goodbye.
This phone telepress conference was held on April 23, 2013.
The warmer ocean waters melt continental ice and are causing sea level to rise worldwide. Scientists project a sea level rise of between 0.9 and 1.6 meters by the end of the century under a "business as usual" scenario.