OPINION: Thinkpiece - When a degree of difference is a threat to life

Cherry Farrow, a freelance journalist

A few weeks ago, Canada's Environment Minister said that long-term climate change would outweigh terrorism as a threat for the international community.

It has been more than 10 years since environmentalists, scientists and world leaders started negotiations on tackling climate change. While they are still at it, spare a thought for those for whom a one or two degree change in temperature spells disaster.

The small Pacific islands of Kiribati and Tuvalu face rising sea levels to the extent that they have had evacuation plans in place for some years now. Tuvalu, which is just a couple of hundred yards wide, has already lost one metre of land. Kiribati may not survive this century.

You couldn't get much further from the Pacific than the Arctic, yet here too climate change is not a theory but a reality. The indigenous people of the Arctic, the Inuit, thrive on ice and snow. They survive by hunting on ice - ring seals and some whales. It's their culture, their way of life. But with extreme ice melt, streams have become torrential rivers.

Whole communities are moving from coastal areas. Runways are buckling.

This may be the beginning of the end of a way of life for the people of the Arctic.

Inuit campaigner Sheila Watt Cloutier says: "It's not just the polar bear or our wildlife that faces extinction - we are an endangered species ourselves." Now the Inuit are taking a petition to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission declaring that the US refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol or cut pollution infringes their environmental, subsistence, and other human rights.

The WWF and Greenpeace are both working on climate change impacts in the Arctic. Samantha Smith, director of the WWF's Arctic Programme, says that large-scale sweeping change is being seen in the ecosystems and species upon which local communities depend.

It would only take one more superpower - Russia or the US - to make the Kyoto Protocol a reality. The US is responsible for 25 per cent of the world's pollution. Russia has the largest territory and the largest number of people living in the Arctic region. It should, therefore, be both of them, because the Arctic is the one shared border between them, and it is their own communities they are endangering.

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