The effects of global warming are no longer just fodder for theoretical debate among scientists. They are already being felt, and are affecting the lives of people around the world.
This is the message delivered to delegates of the Sixth Session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP-6), held in The Hague, Netherlands Nov. 13 to 24. The conference was held to allow UNFCCC participants to try to reach an agreement on implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 agreement that established targets for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
Evidence of the dramatic effect climate change is having in Canada?s Arctic was presented to the conference in the form of a video produced by the Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). The video, Sila Alangotok: Inuit Observations on Climate Change, demonstrates how global warming is making its mark in Canada?s north.
The video, presented at COP-6 Nov. 16, chronicles the experiences of the people of Sachs Harbour on Banks Island in the northwestern Arctic, whose lives and lands are being directly affected by warming temperatures. Permafrost is melting, ice is thinning, the autumn freeze up comes later and the spring thaw arrives earlier. Thunder and lightning storms are occurring for the first time.
Hunting is becoming difficult, with venturing out on the thinning ice in search of seals and polar bears growing treacherous, and melting permafrost hindering travel on land.
New species of birds, fish, mammals and insects are moving into the area, while the behavior, growth and numbers of those traditionally in the area is being affected. The foundations of many buildings are shifting because of the melting permafrost, and land is slumping along the coast and lake shores.
Jennifer Castleden, a project officer with IISD, was in The Hague for COP-6. She said the video project got started about a year and a half ago when Rosemarie Kuptana, an IISD board member and resident of Sachs Harbour, brought the dramatic changes being experienced by her community to the attention of other board members and staff. A decision was made to initiate the project, as ?a very good way to communicate to southern audiences and to audiences around the world that climate change is a reality,? Castleden explained.
Since the video?s launch at COP-6, there has been a lot of interest in the project, with it being discussed at many of the side events held between the negotiation sessions.
?In almost every session that I?ve attended, this project has been brought up in some capacity, where people are saying, ?You know, this is something we?ve got to take serious, because we have evidence.? Especially in the Arctic where the changes are so dramatic,? Castleden said when interviewed while attending COP-6.
?I think it?s sort of really shown the people here that what they?re doing is important, and that there has to really be a strong effort to ratify this Kyoto Protocol,? Castleden said.
Castleden said there have been a lot of requests from COP-6 delegates for copies of the video to take back home to show to their ministries, which is something the IISD hoped would happen.
?We were hoping to get the video in front of decision makers and policy makers who are dealing with it, so that they know that the issue is real, and it?s happening now. So that?s something we will continue to do with the video,? Castleden said.
Although the video project is international in scope, Canada is definitely a prime target for its message, Castleden explained.
?What?s happening with climate change is very directly impacting Canadians. And always, the models of global change have predicted that the Arctic would be the first place that was hit by climate change and it would be the most severely hit. And I think what this project has done is it has shown that this is beginning, and it?s a real warning to the rest f the world because of the role the Arctic plays in regulating the climate around the world. So hopefully it will be a wake-up call to everybody to really act, and we?re sure hoping that Canada takes a leadership role here at the negotiations. And from the video, it shows how strongly Canada needs to play a role, because we have a lot to lose with climate change.?
Despite initial optimism among delegates, the COP-6 talks were suspended without an agreement being reached. A seventh round of talks have been scheduled for Morocco next fall to continue negotiations.
?I think there was a lot of disappointment on everyone?s part,? Castleden said during a second interview following the suspension of talks.
?I think there was just a lot of hope and optimism at the beginning of the week that there would be something resolved . . . And then by about Wednesday or Thursday, was when the feeling of optimism shifted, and people were not as positive anymore. So I think it was disappointing for the delegations that were there negotiating, and for the NGOs and activists who were really hoping that something concrete would come out of the conference,? she said.
With any international agreement on implementing the Kyoto Protocol likely at least a year away, the IISD will continue to use Sila Alangotok to get the message out about the affect climate change is having in Canada?s far north.
The IISD is trying to make arrangements to have the full-length video broadcast.
The 14-minute version of Sila Alangotok: Inuit Observations on Climate Change can be viewed on-line at http://www.iisd.org.casl/projects/inuitobs.htm. Copies can also be purchased through IISD for $9.95 plus shipping and handling. Call 204-958-7700, e-mail to email@example.com, or write to IISD at 161 Portage Avenue East, 6th Floor, Winnipeg, MB, R3B 0Y4.