Environmental Justice report (editing) Essay Example

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Greenland Environmental Justice Report

Fighting for recognition of the Inuit Human rights under international law:

Nowhere on earth has climate change had a more severe impact then the arctic. The way of life, economy and distinctiveness of the Inuit community as an indigenous population is dependent on snow and ice (Stone 2010, pg. 52). This is incredibly disturbing considering the fact that they are contributing the least to the devastating practices that are enhancing global warming and causing their entire livelihoods to rapidly melt away. With this in mind, serious issues of environmental justice come into play as it becomes alarmingly clear that their basic human rights are being denied due to the actions of others. In 2005 Sheila Watt-Cloutier, former president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council aimed to address these injustices by filing a petition against the United States in the Inter – American Commission on Human Rights. Although the use of the human rights framework has been used to address ecological matters before, this was arguably the first instance in which it had been used in order to address the matter as a global environmental issue. The petition attempted to show how the impacts of climate change are adversely affecting the ability of the Inuit people to exercise and enjoy the basic freedoms of life. The petition indicated that a number of international law principles influence the application of matters of human rights in this case. Notably, the US’s membership to the Organization of American States as well as its approval of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man compel it to defend the rights of the Inuit people (Hollo et al 2012, p.302). The petition contended that the adverse impacts of climate change breach various human rights, including the right to the advantages of culture, the right to the safeguarding of wellbeing, the right to property, the right to life, the right to physical integrity, the right to security as well as a means of subsistence, the right to movement and the right to residence and sanctity of the home (Hollo et al 2012, p. 302).

Additionally, the US also has a responsibility to make sure that operations within areas under its dominion do not result in cross-border harm or contravene other agreements to which it is a signatory (ICC 2005). But in spite of these lawfully binding pronouncements, the US disallowed the petition under the pretext that there was inadequate detail to support true causality and to make the nation culpable. This was upsetting given the amount of proven scientific evidence mounted against them. The Inter circumpolar council had based their findings on the world renowned scientific work of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. This independent panel was made up of over 300 scientists and developed over a period of four years. In 2004 they concluded that climate change was without a doubt anthropogenic and that the Arctic is particularly susceptible to apparent and anticipated changes in climate and their effects. The panel also noted that the Arctic is currently undergoing some of the fastest and harsh climatic changes on the globe. It also indicated that over the next century, a high rate of climate change is expected, leading to notable ecological, social, economic and physical changes, many of which are already taking place
(ACIA 2004).

On top of this, America was found to be the world’s biggest polluter of greenhouse gas emissions in 2005. With this information at hand there is no denying that the United States and their capitalistic- growth driven, ecologically damaging practices are having a direct influence on rising temperatures and melting Arctic ice caps. They are therefore in direct breach of international law. They have a responsibility to acknowledge that their relentless emissions are having devastating impacts on the stability of the Inuit way of life. The Inuit culture cannot be separated from the nature of the people’s physical environment, and the extensive environmental disturbance emanating from climate change infringes the Inuit people’s right to exercise and take pleasure in the benefits of their culture (ICC 2005) Yet, with full knowledge of this, the United States has been persistent in allowing the uncontrolled release of greenhouse gases from within its borders into the surrounding (ICC 2005) at alarming rates.

The fact that petition was overruled was a major disappointment for the Inter circumpolar commission, yet despite this it was also considered to be a huge success by many other measures. It arguably brought to light the pressing truth that climate change is occurring right now and gravely endangering the lives of people just like us.
This changed the generally held point of view that climate change is a theoretical issue that will result in unknown ramifications for upcoming generations (Atapattu 2013, pg. 385). Furthermore it certainly bought international recognition and attention to the matter of climate change and its dangerous and delicate relationship with human life. Perhaps the greatest achievement that resulted from filing the petition was the development of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People in 2007. Prior to the petition indigenous people had largely been ignored by the UN General Assembly. This was significant since it implied that the right of the native population to enjoy all human rights as stated in the UN Charter, the international human rights law and the Universal of Human Rights was recognised for the first time (Atapattu 2013, pg. 388).

Hopes of Justice for the Inuit people rapidly melt away

However, despite this, little has yet been done to remedy the situation of the Inuit people. Since 2005, the catastrophic consequences that result from climate change have only become more prominent and more ferocious. This is particularly telling of the little village of Ummannaq, based in the north-west region of Greenland, who are faced with the grave reality that they may never be able to fish or hunt again, and may even lose their entire culture and way of life due to the melting ice caps. In fact progress on reducing the level of Carbon Dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere has taken such a back step it’s almost unfathomable. Ironically, the official leaders of Greenland itself have recently adopted procedures, in the forms of mining and mineral extraction that will dramatically increase the destruction of their environment and the release of greenhouse gases within their own territory. They are framing this as a necessary measure that needs to take place if the country wants to successfully adapt to global warming and ensure the sustainability of their economy.

Greenland’s endeavours to adapt & the ironic & inherent environmental injustices that will result:

he removal of mining restrictions in the area has come under a great deal of scrutiny as it is going to cause irreversible ecological damage to an already extremely vulnerable area. (Olsen 2013, p. 1) TGreenland aims to increase its mining of rare ores, valuable materials utilised in the manufacture of weapon systems, smartphones, as well as other modern technologies. However, uranium is often found as a mixture of rare ores, so the embargo was obstructing significant mining activities (Nuttall 2008, p. 65). In 2004 they became one step closer to reaching this goal, when the Danish Greenlandic Self Rule Commission concluded that subsoil minerals below Greenland’s surface belonged to Greenland itself, and that they had the right to generate lucrative revenue from these resources if they wished to do so. This money would allow Greenland to increase its overall GDP, which would feed directly back into their economy, thus weakening their dependence on Denmark and aiding them in achieving their goal of become independent. However, it was not until last year in 2013, when Greenland’s parliament agreed to lift a ban on the extraction of minerals that the country could really begin to capitalise on these natural resources. Nevertheless, the main obstacle barring Greenland from its bid to achieve greater governmental autonomy is doing away with its dependence on Denmark and starting to rely on resources generated from within its borders. To understand how and why they are doing this, it is necessary to take a brief look at the political history of the region. Greenland is the world’s biggest island and formerly a province of Denmark. The region achieved the status of an autonomous Danish dependent territory with restricted self-government and its own parliament in 1979. Despite this, Denmark remains in charge of Greenland’s foreign affairs, defence policy and also contributes an incredible two thirds to the island’s budget revenue. For the past 40 years Greenland has been struggling to become recognised as its independent country, free from the hands of Danish Colonisation

The ice itself is known by the Inuit community an embodiment of their social, cultural, and economic space, and an inseparable component of their conventional territory; yet this aspect of their domain is about to vanish (Atapattu 2013, p. 383). Yet despite this, Greenland government officials have framed the lifting of the ban as necessary as they argue there are limited alternatives available to them if they wish to keep the province up and running. Greenland now has executive rights to decide which foreign nations are allowed to explore and eventually exploit the area of its natural minerals. In light of this Prime Minister Aleqa Hammond has issued over 120 licences for mining and petrochemical ventures. This includes a large open-cut iron-ore mine that is projected to produce 15 million tonnes of top-grade iron concentrate per year for sale mostly to China, drilling bases for offshore prospecting for gas and oil, and even mines to produce rare earths and uranium (Dyer 2014).

(Macalister 2014).capable of attracting the biggest oil firms in the world to prospect for gas and oil in their area, since this increases the conviction that they are able to discover gas and oil in commercially exploitable quantities (Macalister 2014). With full knowledge of the destructive powers these companies have and their lack of acknowledgement or care for the natural environment it is extremely alarming that Greenland officials are going too such extreme lengths to entice them into exploiting the islands mineral resources. Officials almost seem to be boasting about the fact that they were energy firms should keep off the Arctic since an oil spillage would possibly cause too much damage to the environment and as such, having oil in the Greenland region would be a catastrophe (Macalister 2014). Interestingly The French oil Group; ‘Total,’ have in contrast rejected the offer to mine in the area as they recognise the grave dangers and enormous risks associated with any move into the Arctic region. The Chief Executive of the group, Christophe de Margerie has stated that polluted large areas of the Louisiana coastline and damaged the sources of income for thousands of people with the Deepwater Horizon disaster and was now extending the same to the Arctic, one of the earth’s most delicate environments «With a safety track record like BP’s it beggars belief that they would ever be allowed to drill in and around the Arctic. He said the British oil group had (Macalister 2014). In reaction to this John Sauven, the executive director of Greenpeace has seriously condemned the move. 2a portion of Greenland covering a massive 2,630 kmPerhaps what is of most concern is the fact that BP was one of the first companies to secure a license to drill

The environmental injustices that will come as a result of this will be wide spread and potentially irreversible. The leaders of Greenland parliament have argued that this will open the region up to an increase in job prospects and revenue. However, most of the work will be taken up by skilled foreign workers who are to be flown in by the thousands. This will have hugely detrimental impacts on the social structure of the island, not to mention on the already fragile cultural identity of the Inuit people.

and oil exploitation] will have enormous impact on lifestyles, and our indigenous culture. – need to reference  mining What is most profound is how aware of the consequences the prime minister is, and yet she still endeavours to lead the country on a path of modernisation that will certainly result in cultural and ecological destruction and environmental injustices. It is deeply ironic that the Government officials of Greenland have witnessed with their one eyes, and seen first-hand the overwhelming and calamitous influences of climate change and yet despite this have still gone on to adopt adaptation approaches that are only going to make their contribution to climate change almost on par with America, the nation they once aimed to place blame on. It will also undoubtedly make their province more vulnerable and susceptible to these climatic changes. The Prime Minister is well aware of her decision to distribute licenses, and says that she understands it. In a recent interview with The Guardian she stated that; “»The decisions we are making [to open up the country to

However, the question remains whether or not she grasps the scope of environmental injustices that this will have on the Inuit people. They have contributed the least to these emissions, carrying out a lifestyle that is sustainable and supportive of their natural surroundings. They have a traditional understanding of the interdependent relationship that exists between humans and their environment. Yet, they have not only had their access to their basic human rights ignored under international law, they are now being subjected the even more insulting prospect of having their rights completely disregarded and essentially obliterated by their own parliamentary leaders. Perhaps what is the greatest disappointment of this is the fact that much like climate change the loss of this culture is not a possibility, it is a certain reality. The Inuit people have essentially lost all hope if mining and oil exploration and exploitation continue to take place as planned.

  • Impact of foreign workers – they are not even offering the ummanaq people an alertaive as they plan to use foreign workers for all mining, which again offers them no hope or resolution.


ACIA 2004, Impact of a warming arctic, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Atapattu, S 2013, ‘Climate change, indigenous peoples and the arctic: the changing horizon of international law’, Michigan State International Law Review, vol. 22, no. 1, pp. 378-408.

Dyer, G 2014, ‘Greenland’s race for modernity’, Straight.com, 29 January, viewed 7 May 2014, <http://www.straight.com/news/576866/gwynne-dyer-greenlands-race-modernity>.

Hollo, EJ, Kulovesi, K & Mehling, M 2013, Climate change and the Law, Springer-Verlag, Germany.

ICC 2005, 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, Media release, 7 December, viewed 9 May 2014, <http://www.inuitcircumpolar.com/files/uploads/icc-files/FINALPetitionICC.pdf>.

Macalister, T 2014, ‘BP wins first Greenland drilling concession despite chequered record’, The Guardian, viewed 11 May 2014, <http://timeli.info/item/713798/The_Guardian_Environment/BP_wins_first_Greenland_drilling_concession_despite_chequered_record___Business___The_Guardian>.

Nuttall, M 2008, ‘Towards the world’s first independent Inuit state?’, Indigenous Affairs, vol. 3, no. 8, pp. 64-70.

Olsen, M 2013, ‘Greenland opens way for mining boom’, Global News, 25 October, viewed 9 May 2014, <http://globalnews.ca/news/924831/greenland-opens-way-for-mining-boom/>.