Canada’s pro-oil agenda threatens to destroy the Arctic: Greenpeace

Feature story - May 14, 2013
As Canada officially took the chair of the Arctic Council today, Greenpeace sent a direct message to delegates at the ministerial meeting in Kiruna, Sweden, and launched an international mobilization online calling on Canada to put people and the environment before oil companies.


The Arctic Council (AC) is intended to be a forum for ensuring the sustainability and environmental protection of the region, but the Harper government has indicated that it will use the forum to advance industrial development in the Arctic.

“We will not stand by and let the Harper government use the next two years to advance its destructive industrial agenda at the Arctic Council,” said Christy Ferguson, Arctic campaign coordinator with Greenpeace Canada. “If Harper plans to do to the Arctic what he’s done to Canada, anyone who cares about the future of this fragile region should be scared.”

At today's Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Kiruna, Sweden, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced Canada’s agenda for the two-year chairmanship. In interviews leading up to the meeting, Aglukkaq and other Canadian officials said that industry should have more of a voice at the Arctic Council.

This direction was confirmed by the agenda laid out by Aglukkaq in Sweden, which failed to include any significant action by Arctic states to address climate change, or the development of any kind of binding agreement to prevent oil spills. Despite strong calls for more action from its own working groups and scientists and many of the Ministers attending the meeting, today’s Arctic Council meeting has ended with no plans for binding international agreements to regulate black carbon emissions or curb the Arctic oil rush.

“The lack of environmental action laid out at today’s meeting is alarming, especially when paired with Canadian officials’ statements about industry needing more of a say over the future of the Arctic,” said Ferguson. “Decisions about what is safe and sustainable for this region should not be made by companies determined to profit off its destruction. The Arctic Council should be a forum for preventing environmental disasters like oil spill and fighting climate change–not facilitating them.”

Earlier this week, participants at a parallel pan-Arctic Indigenous conference co-hosted by Greenpeace and the Russian Save the Pechora Committee signed a joint statement in opposition to Arctic drilling. Signatories to the statement included two permanents participants of the AC, the Arctic Athabaskan Council and RAIPON, and the Dene Nation, Athabaska Chipewyan First Nation, the Assembly of First Nations in the Northwest Territories and the Youth Council of Sami Parliament in Sweden.

“This week, Indigenous peoples from across the circumpolar Arctic asserted their inherent rights to speak up and oppose non-sustainable development in the Arctic,” said Kiera Kolson, Arctic outreach campaigner with Greenpeace and member of the Dene Nation. “Leona Aglukkaq does not speak for all the people of the North –especially not when she’s pushing destructive industrial development in a place already disrupted by climate change.”

In Ottawa, Greenpeace volunteers brought a life-like polar bear to Parliament Hill and held banners reading “Harper: Arctic Drilling=Spilling” and “Canada: Don’t destroy the Arctic too” comparing the potential of an environmental disaster in the Arctic to the toxic reality of the tar sands in Alberta.

Greenpeace believes that during the next two years, Canada and the Arctic Council must deliver concrete results protecting the environment and the people who rely on it:

  • Agree to develop new, binding common standards to apply to offshore oil and gas drilling, including a ban on oil drilling in the Arctic, as it is not possible to intervene to prevent a spill or clean up the event of a spill.
  • Undertake new, urgent action to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of Arctic states, including but not restricted to action to reduce emissions of black carbon.
  • Take action on marine reserves, including supporting the establishment of a global sanctuary in the central Arctic Ocean, as part of an enhanced plan to protect Arctic biodiversity.
  • Tackle the risks from unsustainable industrial fishing.
  • Review of the transparency and inclusiveness of the Arctic Council.

Greenpeace is calling for the uninhabited area around the North Pole to be declared a global sanctuary—an area legally protected from all forms of large-scale industrial development, such as oil drilling and industrial fishing. More than 3 million people around the globe have already expressed their support to Greenpeace's Save the Arctic campaign.

Greenpeace respects Indigenous rights and supports the full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as an integral part of the process of developing an ecologically and socially sustainable society with equitable outcomes for all. Greenpeace supports the rights of Indigenous peoples to carry out traditional activities such as fishing, hunting, trapping and gathering on their traditional territories.

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