Our Overseas correspondent, Anthony Speca, recently wrote a post about Greenpeace Canada’s campaign to “save the Arctic.” He titled his piece “Arctic saviour complex.” In it he argued that the actions of Greenpeace Canada are misplaced:
The Arctic isn’t the common heritage of all. It’s the particular heritage of some—its Indigenous peoples and sovereign states, whose histories of use and occupancy in the Arctic stretch back centuries.
These states and peoples often disagree strongly about how to manage Arctic resources sustainably. In general, however, neither is wholly against industrial development in the Arctic, and both wish to see the Arctic environment protected. In 2009, for example, the USA imposed a moratorium on commercial fishing in its Arctic EEZ until the marine environment there is better understood. Canada took similar action in part of its Arctic EEZ in 2011. Why not build on these efforts rather than try to replace them with something completely new and imposed from outside?
For Greenpeace, the answer is clear. It proudly proclaims that “a ban on offshore oil drilling and unsustainable fishing would be a huge victory against the forces ranged against this precious region and the four million people who live there.” But with its uncompromising and uncooperative approach, it seems to be among the vanguard of those very forces that it seeks to fight.
Only July 27, 2012, Speca followed up on his post and wrote about the frequent practice of international organizations calling for bans on commercial fishing, sealing, and whaling activities in Northern Canada. At times, these proposed bans would extend to the traditional productive activities of Indigenous peoples. While highlighting various international organizations, including the Pew Environment Group, Speca concluded his piece by focussing on Greenpeace Canada.
In his post, Speca wrote:
Greenpeace is certainly right to draw attention to the very real threats of overfishing and oil pollution in the Arctic. But it’s certainly wrong to appeal to the court of world opinion over the heads of Arctic peoples and their states. It seems to have misjudged its past victories in Antarctica, where it was instrumental in bringing about a ban on mining. Through such victories, Greenpeace helped elevate environmental values around the world, including among citizens of Arctic states—values that the first peoples of the Arctic share. How doubly unfortunate it is, then, not to cooperate more with them.
Following that post, Greenpeace responded to Speca’s column on our website. You can read the letter posted by Diego Creimer, Media Relations — Greenpeace Canada, below:
Dear Mr. Speca,
Greenpeace welcomes the opportunity to debate the goals and merits of our campaign. The Arctic is a complex, vulnerable, rapidly changing region. It is home to millions of people and we don’t claim to have all the solutions. Our campaign is in many ways the beginning of a conversation that includes all the peoples of the Arctic about how we can secure a safer future for the region.
It is wrong to assume that Greenpeace has launched this campaign without considering the people who call the Arctic home. Any future agreement on governance must be one that recognises the rights and knowledge of the Indigenous peoples who have lived in the Arctic for millennia. That is why we were honoured to have Rodion Sulyandziga from the Udega People and First Vice President of the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON) with us to launch the campaign earlier this year. The future of the Arctic is, unquestionably, integral to the survival of its peoples and they must be at the heart of its protection. However, what happens in the far North also affects human beings far beyond its boundaries and is of great and growing significance to the global community.
The Arctic ecosystem is central to the regulation of the world’s climate and weather systems. Melting Arctic ice affects sea levels, which in turn challenges the survival of other nations and peoples, in other oceans. Just as the actions of the global community affect the Arctic, so too the future of the Arctic affects the rest of the world.
This is why Greenpeace campaigns around the world to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and find alternative energy sources. In this context, we find it particularly tragic that some of the Arctic governments that repeatedly tell us the future of the region must be left to them (such as the United States and Canada) are also those who have persistently impeded efforts to find a global solution to climate change.
We believe that governments are putting short term profit before the future of the peoples of the Arctic, its wildlife and the interests of the wider global community. For example, Arctic coastal states are encouraging oil drilling in environments that are extremely difficult to protect against oil spills and where a spill would be almost impossible to clean up. The Arctic Council has no binding rules that could halt, protect against or manage such damage.
Similarly, there is no system of fisheries management in place in the Arctic region capable of protecting fish stocks from the devastating impacts of industrial fishing, as felt in almost every other ocean on earth.
It is for these reasons that we are calling for a ban on oil drilling and a ban on industrial fishing in the Arctic (not commercial fishing, as suggested in the article). Greenpeace acknowledges that the fishing methods of Indigenous Peoples have secured the health of their fish stocks for thousands of years, and that sustainable fishing is central to the livelihoods of many communities in the Arctic.
It is because we believe that Arctic governments are currently failing to address key challenges to the future of the Arctic that we are calling for millions of people to join us in asking for alternative approaches and more urgent, ambitious solutions.
We acknowledge that these solutions will need the support of Arctic states to come into effect. However, we believe that the voice of a concerned international community can be a legitimate catalyst in achieving that goal. It is with this belief that we are taking our popular call to action to the United Nations.
We recognise that the Arctic and Antarctica are very different places and that solutions appropriate for one cannot be ‘cut and pasted’ to apply to other. The land in the Arctic Circle is inhabited by millions of people and is already part of the sovereign territory of Arctic nations. Nonetheless, we do think a parallel can be drawn between the two in the area of the Arctic that is currently uninhabited and not yet national territory. Similar to what happened with the Antarctic Treaty, the opportunity exists in this area, through international co-operation, to create a global sanctuary protected from industrial development and militarisation.
Our call for a global sanctuary in the uninhabited area of the Arctic Ocean is central to our campaign, but is not as an attempt to ignore or undermine UNCLOS. On the contrary, we acknowledge that under that law, countries do have legal rights to put in territorial claims, which could in future be settled using existing mechanisms.
Our appeal is not to the mechanics of the law, but rather to the principle, the value and the meaning of the global commons – a common good that is shared by humanity and protected by humanity. Unlike many governments, we continue to believe in the hope offered by true international co-operation, about that of national or even regional interests.
At present the High North remains under international, rather than national jurisdiction; now is the last moment when states could come together to make sure it stays that way forever. We appeal to those countries submitting claims under UNCLOS to drop them, and we hope to summon the voices of millions of people across the world to make this appeal one those countries will hear.
We make no bones about having an uncompromising position on the urgent need for Arctic protection. Some things cannot be compromised and the Arctic firmly falls into that category. But Greenpeace’s approach absolutely recognises the need for wide-ranging co-operation and we look forward to developing a constructive dialogue with the governments and peoples who call the Arctic home.
Media Relations – Greenpeace Canada.
Speca is currently away, but he will be continuing this debate in future posts. Until then, Northern Public Affairs welcomes your comments. Please leave your thoughts below.