Keynote Presentation: Sheila Watt-Cloutier – Nobel Peace Prize Nominee
On Climate Change and Human Rights
Halifax, Nova Scotia – Traditional grounds of the Mi’kmaq
At the 2014 IdeaLaw conference, Noble Peace Prize Nominee Sheila Watt-Cloutier spoke about our collective environmental challenges and argued that an adequate response must encapsulate the interconnectivity between our resources, environmental challenges, in particular those that tie the Northern Arctic and the South together, and the relatable human stories behind them. Sheila reminds us that climate change is never simply environmental degradation or melting ice of a remote area of the world but an impact that affects an entire people in terms of human rights, culture, education and security.
In speaking about her own success with Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), pollutants that accumulated in the North through weather patterns across the world and at home in the Arctic, Sheila argued that the ability to clearly articulate the interconnectivity of the challenge on a global scale and the human stories were absolutely vital in raising awareness and changing behavior. The Stockholm convention which recognized the danger of POPs succeeded not only because it used international organizations to establish a working relationship between the north and the south, but also because it articulated a clear relationship between pollution caused in the South and its cumulative effects on the North while counting the human stories — POPs were poisoning not only the Northern wildlife and marine mammals but also the dietary habits of Aboriginal peoples and the nursing milk of Northern mothers.
The visible climate changes undergoing to the level of ice in the North is profoundly impacting the culture and homeland of northern peoples and the ecology of the earth. The human impact is visibly being felt not only in the health of environment and the health of wildlife but also the health of human persons. Environmental degradation is deeply affecting traditional hunting and fishing grounds of Aboriginal peoples important for their security and survival in the North. It is also making life dramatically unpredictable and threatening not only Aboriginal culture but also their survival and security. For the Inuit, the ice is the ground upon which they learn survival and life skills that are essential in shaping individual judgment and the ability to avoid losing perspective, as well as the ability to live off the land and its food. The coastal erosion, melting permafrost, rapid melt off, the variability and unpredictability of weather is re-writing a sense identity, a lowered sense of self-worth, and underscoring health challenges and circumpolar communities’ to think and act for themselves.
In this sense Sheila argues that failure to take action on environmental issues is a violation of someone’s human rights — of those who depends on the ice, cold and the snow. In speaking about her own success with the “Petition To The Inter American Commission On Human Rights Seeking Relief From Violations Resulting From Global Warming Caused By Acts And Omissions Of The United States,” Sheila noted that in large it was achieved by voicing demands clearly, avoiding confrontation and establishing partnerships with organizations in the United States who were already working on reaching out to affected groups and telling the human stories of climate change. We must be willing to think collaboratively and assert something stronger than a lawsuit. There are useful international mechanisms and instruments that were already in place like the Inter-American commission on human rights and the Duties of American Declaration of the duties of Man 1948 to get our voices out.
For Sheila, however, we need to leaders that can do more than work together, we need them to heal peoples and tell the stories. Climate change is requiring a new model for leadership — one the understands global connections between health, environment, culture, security, foreign policy, sustainability, global warming, economy to human rights and to common stories.
For more information about important organizations mentioned in Sheila’s presentation, the list is provided below:
The website for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is accessible here.
The “American Declaration Of The RightsAnd Duties Of Man” is accessible here.
The website for Earth Justice.org can be accessed here.
The “Petition To The Inter American Commission On Human Rights Seeking Relief From Violations Resulting From Global Warming Caused By Acts And Omissions Of The United States” is available here.
The Inuit Circumpolar Council (Canada) can be accessed here.
The “Arctic Climate Impact Assessment Policy Document” can be accessed here.