SPECPOL Weighs Options to Protect Environment, Indigenous Rights in Arctic Region

By Jason Meizels

SAINT PETERSBURG (UN Press Corps) - Members of SPECPOL have come together this weekend to solve two major issues of the Arctic region: the rights of indigenous people and the consequences of climate change.

Four million people live in the Arctic, 10 percent of whom are indigenous people. They are an ethnically heterogeneous group, which prevents simplistic solutions for problems such as political representation or the creation of special interest groups. The lives of indigenous people are adversely affected by climate change far more than others because they live on land which is melting fast and which has resources of value to powerful corporations. SPECPOL has a responsibility to make sure indigenous people’s liberties and interests are protected and represented according to the delegate from Sweden.

Sweden believes that providing an avenue through which indigenous people can achieve political representation is vital to protecting their rights. The UN must intervene “to a certain extent,” Sweden proposes, because they must be able to survive independently and because the UN must always respect sovereign boundaries.

The delegate from Lithuania adds that the committee’s duty is to “help them help themselves.” Delegates presented many solutions, most involving legal assistance and reparations to indigenous people. Sweden also offered a plan by which each indigenous tribe would have one participatory member on the Arctic Council, establishing equal representation and giving the people who these decisions affect a say.

The committee also debated climate change, developing comprehensive strategies to slow its ramifications. Melting ice is affecting oceanic circulation, while the melting permafrost is releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, contributing to further warming. The Albedo effect — wherein less sunlight is reflected as more ice melts, meaning the temperature rises and more ice melts — affects the whole globe.

Most delegates agree that researching and implementing renewable energy sources is critical to solving the issue. Sweden asserts that research is the “top priority of the committee,” along with reducing fossil fuel use. The delegate from Mexico submitted a model that projected the effects of climate change three decades from now, predicting a precipitous rise in global temperature. Mexico called for immediate action to prevent this “unacceptable” forecast.

Some delegates are split over climate change and indigenous people, focusing more heavily on one issue than another. Singapore emphasized diplomacy, urging member states to “end polarization for polarization’s sake,” while Ecuador reminded the committee that neutrality and security are important to address in a geographically and politically evolving region.