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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 March 2007, 16:54 GMT
US CO2 emissions 'violate rights'
Catching fish through an ice hole  (Image: AP)
Traditional hunting and fishing techniques are at risk from thin ice
A delegation of Inuit has travelled to Washington to argue that the US government's climate change policies violate human rights.

The group has filed a legal petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, demanding that the US limits its emission of greenhouse gases.

The Inuit say pollution is contributing to melting ice and thawing permafrost, affecting their way of life.

Temperatures in the Arctic are rising at about twice the global average.

Representatives for Inuit communities living within the Arctic Circle presented evidence to the Commission on Thursday in an attempt to link human-induced climate change to international human rights.

The hearing is the latest stage in the legal process, which began in December 2005 when the petition was filed.

Call for caps

The delegation is being led by Sheila Watt-Cloutier, a former chairwoman of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, a representative body for Inuit in Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Russia.

Mrs Watt-Cloutier, who has been nominated alongside former US Vice President Al Gore for a Nobel Peace Prize for their work on climate change, was responsible for submitting the petition.

House about to fall into the sea (Image: ANSC)
Coastal erosion and thawing permafrost threatens settlements (Image: ANSC)

The document urges the commission to recommend that the "United States adopt mandatory limits to its emissions of greenhouse gases".

It also asks for the US to work within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to "prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system".

Mrs Watt-Cloutier, and the petition's 62 other signatories, are calling on the US to work with the Arctic communities to help them adapt to the impact of unavoidable climate change.

The action was brought against the US following the publication of an extensive scientific study of the Arctic region.

The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment involved hundreds of scientists from all over the globe and took four years to compile.

Among its findings, the assessment said that increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would "contribute to additional Arctic warming of about 4-7C (7-13F), about twice the global average, over the next 100 years".

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It also projected that shorter and warmer winters would affect sea ice cover, resulting in changes to animal behaviour and Inuit access to food sources.

Addressing the commission, Mrs Watt-Coultier said: "The ice is not only our roads but also our supermarket.

"Deteriorating ice conditions imperil Inuit in many ways," she added. "Ice pans used for hunting at the floe edge are more likely to detach from the land fast ice and take hunters away.

"Many hunters have been killed or seriously injured after falling through ice that was traditionally known to be safe."

'Right to life'

Legal representatives from two US-based organisations, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) and Earthjustice, are helping the group with the case.

Martin Wagner, Earthjustice's managing attorney, is one of people who gave evidence to the commission.

He said: "The effects of global warming interfere with the realisation of the right to life, physical integrity and security.

"It is destroying lands and ecosystems to which indigenous cultures throughout the hemisphere are tied. In order to survive, [they] are thus forced to assimilate with other cultures in ways and on a schedule that they have not chosen."

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Theresa, North Carolina, US

If the petition is successful, the commission could refer the US administration to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for a legal judgement.

Both the commission and the court work within the framework of the American Convention on Human Rights.

However, the US has not ratified the convention, so a ruling in favour of the Inuit would be largely symbolic.

Alaska natives left out in the cold
04 Jan 07 |  Science/Nature
Inuit sue US over climate policy
08 Dec 05 |  Science/Nature
Arctic ice 'disappearing quickly'
28 Sep 05 |  Science/Nature
Alaskan people tell of climate change
07 Aug 05 |  Science/Nature
US urged to help slow Arctic thaw
13 Nov 04 |  Science/Nature

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