It has been a fantastic summer. Greenpeace has been in the Arctic for months, bearing witness to its extraordinarily shifting landscape, while challenging short-sighted attempts to find oil and explain to decision-makers that fundamental changes need to happen to the way the Arctic is managed.
But this has just been the beginning.
We now have support from vast numbers of people; 74% of surveyed people in 30 countries. That’s huge. And now we have momentum!
While I have been part of the team that has made all this happen, somehow it has always seemed to be somebody else actually doing the work.
Sitting in my hotel room in New York, it’s really starting to dawn on me what is about to happen; after a dedicated effort by volunteers, and with support from millions of people around the world, I am on my way to meet the Secretary General of the United Nations. Think about that for a minute: a small delegation led by Greenpeace is about to meet one of the world’s most significant people — to talk about the Arctic!
Besides Kumi, our little mission is graced with the presence of two extraordinary people: Josefina Skerk and Margareta Malmgren-Köller. Josefina is a young Saami leader with a strong commitment to protecting the Arctic. She even trekked to the North Pole in 2013 to declare the very top of our world common heritage for all humankind. Margareta is an amazing Act for Arctic-community campaigner who has convinced more than 80 leaders (yes!) to sign the Arctic Declaration; a ten point charter for Arctic protection, to tackle climate change and to establish an Arctic Sanctuary.
We won’t be alone of course! Behind us are the voices and souls of more than 6 million people from all over the world, who also want strong protection of the Arctic, and the more than 1000 influential voices from all walks of life who have signed the Arctic Declaration in the past couple of months after being approached by volunteers and members in their communities.
Mr. Ban Ki-moon is already a strong supporter of urgent action on climate change and a major fan of the Arctic. Earlier this year he packed his bags and went to Greenland to bear witness and highlight the dangers of what is happening there. During the stay he spoke about being both “overwhelmed” and “deeply alarmed”. He said that, “the problem doesn’t go away by being silent… We have to take action now.”
Now, Ban Ki-moon has invited leaders from all over the world to increase pressure and push for commitments at the UN Climate Summit here in New York in just a few days.
So why is our meeting today so important?
Because it is another step towards decisive recognition by the world that the Arctic is a major international issue: in short, “What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic”.
For far too long the global community has ceded their authority, their opinions and even their integrity to the five Arctic coastal states, or “Arctic Council”. These nations have completely and utterly failed to live up to their responsibilities, and they continue to fail in this way every day. It is about time we challenge their authority to speak on behalf of us!
The Arctic is melting because of human-caused climate change. The Arctic nations alone produce 25% of global emissions, and if you include the Arctic Council observer states, that figure rises to 80%. By and large these countries are just sitting back and watching, while oil companies and other destructive industries carve out more of the fossil fuels that have caused the warming in the first place. And by doing nothing they have effectively given these reckless, greedy industries their blessing. Let them know that world is watching and asking them to step up and make sustainable changes.
Many nations of the world are suffering directly because of the melting Arctic glaciers, ice sheets and the warming, expanding Arctic Ocean. This September, the Filipino climate commissioner, Yeb Saño and the President of Kiribati are visiting the Arctic for the first time to highlight this very fact. Their message is one that should be heard around the world: what is happening up North is affecting my people, and it must stop!
Meeting Ban Ki-moon today is a wonderful honour, and for these reasons we carry a responsibility which goes way beyond the Greenpeace community. We will do our very, very best to secure his support, but we also recognize that the power of the UN is far from absolute. What the meeting should do is at least send a strong signal to the Arctic nations that their current approach to their own backyard is far from adequate.
And the Secretary General of the United Nations who is looking out for our backyards seems to agree.
Take a stand too and join the global movement to SaveTheArctic.org
Dr. Neil Hamilton is a Senior Political Advisor – Polar for Greenpeace International.
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