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Protecting Human Rights by Reducing Black Carbon Emissions to Slow Arctic Warming

Case Number # 1950

The Arctic Athabaskan Council has 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.

Grand Chief Ruth Massie.
Grand Chief Ruth Massie.

“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.

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.

Earthjustice is representing the Arctic Athabaskan Council, with Ecojustice as co-counsel.

Press Releases

Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Arctic Athabaskan Council says rights violated by failure to slow rapid Arctic warming