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Why we must speak the words “climate change”

13 June 2019

This article originally appeared in The Circle: Arctic Check-up. The Circle shares perspectives from across the Arctic, and the views expressed here are not necessarily those of WWF. See all Circle issues here.

In early May, the foreign ministers of the eight Arctic nations convened in Rovaniemi, Finland for their biennial meeting. For the first time since the Arctic Council was established in 1996, the meeting ended without a joint declaration to guide the Council’s work for the next two years.

The meeting was supposed to result in the Council’s first-ever longer-term strategy for balancing the challenges of climate change with demands for sustainable development. But the US reportedly refused to sign the declaration because it included the words “climate change.”

ÅSA LARSSON BLIND was one of the representatives who spoke at the meeting in Rovaniemi. She is the President of the Saami Council. Here is an excerpt from her speech.

"The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services released its global assessment with a clear message of an alarming rate of species extinction and nature’s dan- gerous decline. The findings are horrific. The report states that: 'Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66 per cent of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions.' It’s worth noting that on average, these trends have been less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by Indigenous Peoples.

"Cooperation and co-management between Indigenous Peoples and states as equal partners is indeed the best chance we have for an Arctic with high bio- and cultural diversity—a prosperous Arctic for all.

"Yet one of the findings presented in the WWF Scorecard suggests that Arctic states continue to show an unwillingness to recognize Indigenous Peoples
as equal partners in the management of the Arctic region. This shows there are challenges with implementation at a national level. But unlike other regions in the world, we have the Arctic Council as a forum for cooperation.

"In the popular youth book series about Harry Potter, there is a dark wizard, Lord Voldemort, who is also referred to as “he who must not be named.” If he is named, he might appear. By naming the enemy, the other wizards would put their lives at risk. We would like to underscore the fact that climate change and its impacts are nothing like Lord Voldemort. They won’t only appear if mentioned. For those of us living in the Arctic, we can tell you climate change is already taking place and has a great impact on our lives. But by calling it by its real name, we can fight it and reduce its impacts. We do not even need magic. This room has the power and potential to agree on ambitious levels of emissions reductions and set a standard for the rest of the world.

"Today, we express our deepest concern about the development of the commitment for this ministerial. In a time of great urgency, we, the Arctic states and Arctic Indigenous Peoples gathered around this table, are in the best position to make commitments to act in the best interests of the environment and global humanity."