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  • Inuit Rights to the Arctic Ocean

    Rising global temperatures have affected few areas as they have the Arctic Ocean. Areas that were once covered with sea ice year round are becoming more and more accessible to navigation and development activities. As a result, though the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea regime (UNCLOS), Canada is in the process of solidifying its sovereignty over its extended continental shelf and is engaging in treaty negotiations with its Arctic neighbors to ensure that it has fair and equitable access to the natural resources and sea lanes that this disappearing ice has presented. Yet Canada already has a set of treaties that cover the Arctic that it must uphold and respect: its treaties with the Inuit. These treaties were concluded in recognition of the Inuit peoples’ aboriginal rights to the Arctic Ocean and its resources. Other areas of the Arctic Ocean that are not covered by Treaties can also be seen as being subject to Inuit rights, such as Indigenous title and rights.

    As Canada moves forward with the international treaty process and its claims to an extended continental shelf in the Arctic, it must ensure that it honours its obligations toward the Inuit, including the treaties Canada has concluded with them.  This means that Inuit must be given a voice and their concerns must be taken into account whenever their interests are directly at stake, including in connection with international processes set up under UNCLOS. Bypassing the rights of the Inuit in the Arctic, in the context of State sovereignty claims, will discredit Canada’s engagements towards its Treaty partners to work together in a spirit of reconciliation and can expose it to legal action for breach of its domestic and international obligations toward the Inuit.

    I invite you to read this paper by Hutchins Legal Inc. on Setting out Canada’s Obligations to Inuit in respect of the Extended Continental Shelf in the Arctic Ocean.

    To read the paper in Inuktitut please click here.

    Nakurmiik,

    Senator Charlie Watt

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  • Climate Change and the Right to Housing

    Check out the infographic below

    This week the Paris Conference on Climate Change has begun. For all those who are attending, many logistical plans went into their trip. One of which was inevitable was where they would stay during their trip.

    For so many people in our world, having a place to stay is not a guarantee.

    The UN recognized that international law sees adequate housing as a human right: “International human rights law recognizes everyone’s right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate housing.

    Despite the central place of this right within the global legal system, well over a billion people are not adequately housed. Millions around the world live in life- or health threatening conditions, in overcrowded slums and informal settlements, or in other conditions which do not uphold their human rights and their dignity. Further millions are forcibly evicted, or threatened with forced eviction, from their homes every year.”

    The threat of climate change holds the potential to make this bad situation even worse, and could trigger a global housing crisis. To think that the current refugee crisis is a dire situation is to underplay what the potential effects will be with climactic shifts.

    Extreme weather events around the world have already resulted in the displacement of thousands of people globally. The numbers are going to climb, and fast. The threat of mass displacement is so extreme that the UN has already begun referring to “climate change refugees”.

    For those who think this is only going to be a crisis in sub-Saharan Africa, they are deeply mistaken. This is going to also impact adequate housing in Canada as well. As the current refugee crisis is demonstrating, these situations impact the entire world. The global community will be forced to respond, and like any event we have seen that has resulted in catastrophe, the best approach is the one that reduces the possible damages in the first place.

    In order to properly brace for the effects climate change will have on humanity, we need a comprehensive picture of what that looks like. The right to adequate housing is the fourth of a series of six blogs I will share with you given the ongoing Paris conference on Climate Change. It is essential that the right to adequate housing and how the global community will prepare for potential mass displacement be discussed at the conference.

    I will continue to look at how climate change is a threat to other human rights over the next few weeks, and welcome your feedback.

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  • Climate Change and the Right to Health

    Check out the infographic below

    This series of blog posts is exploring how human rights will be affected by the impact of climate change. This week I am looking at the right to health.

    The right to health is not the same as the right to being healthy – it means that everyone should have access to “timely, acceptable, and affordable health care of appropriate quality”. Yet, according to the World Health Organization, about 150 million people suffer financial catastrophe annually, and 100 million are pushed below the poverty line as a result of health care expenditure. We do not realize that our right to health and the inability to protect this actually perpetuates inequality.

    Climate change is not commonly linked to how it will affect our health or right to health. But we have already discussed how it will affect our right to food and water, both necessary for human life to survive and be healthy. So it is only natural to more closely examine how this will directly impact our right to health.

    Some organizations are already trying to promote this awareness. The Physicians for Social Responsibility stated:

    “Although few people are aware of the impact climate change may have on their health, the health effects are serious and widespread. Disease, injury and death can result from climate-induced natural disasters, heat-related illness, pest- and waterborne diseases, air and water pollution and damage to crops and drinking water sources.

    Children, the poor, the elderly, and those with a weak or impaired immune system are especially vulnerable.”

    What could this look like? To understand this we do not have to look any further than what is already occurring. The UN Chronicle looked at the impact of climate change on health, and noted:

    “As early as 2000, the World Health Organization attributed 2.4 per cent of worldwide diarrhea and 6 per cent of malaria cases to climate change. The first large scale, quantifiable impacts on human health are likely to be changes to the geographic range and seasonality of some infectious diseases, including vector-borne infections such as malaria and dengue fever and food-borne infections such as salmonellosis, which peak in warmer months. We have also begun to identify as “climate change casualties” the victims of extreme weather events, such as the 27,000 deaths associated with abnormally high temperatures in the European summer of 2003.

    However, the future public health consequences loom even larger.”

    Health consequences are both a humane and financial concern. If we do not include efforts to mitigate the effects climate change will have on health in the talks in Paris, our health care systems globally will be burdened with trying to manage a sharp increase.

    In order to properly brace for the effects climate change will have on humanity, we need a comprehensive picture of what that looks like. The right to health is the third of a series of six blogs I will share with you as the Paris conference quickly approaches. I will continue to look at how climate change is a threat to other human rights over the next few weeks, and welcome your feedback.

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  • Climate Change and the Right to Food

    Two weeks ago, I wrote about how the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights found multiple links between climate change and how its effects stand to violate human rights, particularly those already living in poverty.  One of those links is the threat climate change poses to the right to food.

    “The right to adequate food as a human right was first formally recognized by the United Nations in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) from 1948, as a part of the right to a decent standard of living.”

    The right to food, like the right to water which we discussed last week, is necessary for human life. It seems like an obvious matter of concern – if people do not have food they cannot survive. Yet the protection of this right is already so difficult to sustain.

    The right to food requires all around attention and the constant protection of four major areas of concern: food production, food access, food utilization, and nutrition. These will all be affected by, and put under greater threat, by climate change.

    According to the World Bank, 702 million people still live in extreme poverty, and 793 million people are undernourished according to the State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI). These numbers come after two decades of tireless work by humanitarian workers that lifted 200 million people out of hunger, so they are seen as numbers of progress. But over the next two decades, the effects of climate change threaten to reverse the work that has been done to combat the threats to the right to food and make the situation a lot worse for millions of people around the world.

    The UN World Food Program is so concerned with the effects of climate change on food security that it stated: “Among the most significant impacts of climate change is the potential increase of food insecurity and malnutrition.”

    This crisis will see its most significant impacts in rural Africa, but it will also have profound affects here in Canada. Shifts in landforms will change the processes with which our northern communities access their food. Trails will shift due to weather fluctuations and new transportation will have to be accommodated. This will have very real effects for Canadians and the global community – food scarcity is already a battle we are struggling to win. Climate change is increasing the challenges against us in this fight.

    In 2012, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Inuit Circumpolar Council prepared a submission to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food for the Official Country Mission to Canada. The document, titled Inuit and the Right to Food, raised their concerns about how climate change will affect the Inuit peoples:

    “Although climate change is being felt on a global scale, the Arctic is on the frontlines of environmental change. Animal species such as caribou are facing a variety of climate related changes in their ranges. Reduced quality of food sources, including berries are already being observed. Safety is now a concern for many hunters because of increased accident rates due to sea ice thinning and unpredictable weather patterns. These changes are continuing to adversely impacting Inuit who 9 depend on country food not only for sustenance and to support the local economy, but also as the basis for cultural and social identity.”

    In order to properly brace for the effects climate change will have on humanity, we need a comprehensive picture of what that looks like. The right to food is the second of a series of six blogs I will share with you as the Paris conference quickly approaches. I will continue to look at how climate change is a threat to other human rights over the next few weeks, and welcome your feedback.

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  • Climate Change and the Right to Water

    Last week I wrote about how the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights found multiple links between climate change and how its effects stand to violate human rights, particularly by those already living in poverty.  One of those links is the threat climate change poses to the right to water.

    1 in 10 people lack access to safe water, and 1 in 3 people lack access to a toilet. More people have mobile phones than a toilet. According to the World Economic Forum in January 2015, the water crisis is the #1 global risk based on impact to society.

    Floods, droughts, changes in temperate and extreme fluctuations are already creating challenges for so many people in the world. This will result in increased water scarcity, contamination, and spread of diseases.

    In many countries, women and girls carry the responsibility for collecting water for drinking, washing, cooking, cleaning, and living. In our world today, nearly one billion people already lack access to safe drinking water, and 2.5 billion lack access to adequate sanitation. Climate change is only going to make weather conditions more volatile, and threaten more people’s rights to water and sanitation.

    The UN defines the right to water as “the right of everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use.” This also includes the right to sanitation: “In all spheres of life everyone has the right to physical and economic access to sanitation which is safe, hygienic, secure, socially and culturally acceptable, provides privacy and ensures dignity.”

    Despite this reality and the certainty that the right to water for so many stands to be at threat under climate change, water has not been considered seriously enough in climate change negotiations.

    A UN position paper argued for change at the 2009 Climate Change Conference: A set of recommendations were laid out, including the “recognition of the pivotal role of water, including its human rights dimensions, in adapting to climate change in order to increase resilience and achieve sustainable development.” It is time we adopt those recommendations and take a serious look at the humanitarian effects of climate change.

    In order to properly brace for the effects climate change will have on humanity, we need a comprehensive picture of what that looks like. The right to water is the first of a series of six blogs I will share with you as the Paris conference quickly approaches. I will continue to look at how climate change is a threat to other human rights over the next few weeks, and welcome your feedback.

    Read more
    Forum des sénateurs libéraux