Global warming and climate change: the two terms widely occupying public discourse in recent times. Something that the millennials would call upon as the mistakes of the past, that scares all the youth reminding them of sci-fi movies which show the looming dark days of the future. Inevitable as some of us would put it across as. Thus, it is no surprise that movements and protests to combat climate change are picking up in many parts of the globe, especially in first world countries, where the youth is more empowered with knowledge of the future. The world has gone berserk over the issue, and reactions all across the globe seems to be mixed. While the American Government is making news by dismissing climate change and global warming as a hoax and ditching climate pacts, her northern neighbour, Canada is doing the exact opposite. The Prime Minister of Canada announced that the country will create protected marine areas in the Arctic region of the country. This decision comes across as a delight to most around the globe, and here’s why.
The Arctic is one of the worst affected regions in the world. Deterioration of climate has led to a rise in the water level, becoming ominous to indigenous animals. Over the past three decades, the Arctic Ocean has lost an area of sea ice equivalent to Germany, France and Spain combined (2,00,000 sq km approx.). Major power players like the USA, Russia, Canada and China have long been competing to get a hold of the Arctic to extract minerals and petroleum resources promised by the region. In the wake of all these happenings, Canada’s announcement to create Protected Marine Areas (PMA) comes as new found hope. Canada has announced two PMAs namely Tuvaijuittuq (which means ‘ice never melts’) Marine Protected Area and Tallurutiup Imanga, covering an area of 427,000 square kilometres. The federal government and Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA) have signed Inuit Impact Benefit Agreement (IIBA) to that effect. QIA is a non-profit society that is designated to safeguard the interests of the minority Inuit community (Eskimos) and has played a key role in pulling off the agreement.
The IIBA proposes a two-fold strategy. Firstly, it forbids any anthropogenic activity and the areas are entirely closed from deep-sea mining, oil and gas extraction, dumping, and fishing. Second, it targets at providing sustainable employment to the Inuit community. For this, the government is set to invest $143 million over the next 7 years. It includes the promotion of local arts and crafts, textiles, indigenous occupations and government jobs in research and data collection as well as investments in ship harbors and boating docks. Thus, one can see that the major beneficiary of this agreement is the Inuit community of northwestern Canada. Akeeagok, QIA president, said that by investing in Inuit, the government is paying the community.
One of the main principles that Economics teaches us is that there is always a tradeoff, and so is there one between economic development and environmental sustainability. Development mostly succeeds at the expense of the environment and has a ravaging effect on it. Canada’s project, however, is an exception. The project protects 14% of the country’s total marine and coastal area, exceeding the original target of protecting 10% of the area by 2020. It also protects indigenous species like narwhal, polar bear, walrus, seal, beluga and the under-ice algae that form a very important base for the entire Arctic food web. Thus, the two notified PMAs will be pivotal biodiversity conservation regions. Further, the Canadian government is actively investing in research related projects so as to support the process to conserve PMAs. It has been announced that an investment of approximately 6 million will go into a scientific research on the impacts of potential oil spills, taken up under the country’s Coastal Environmental Baseline Program, which aims at identifying the long term changes in Canada’s coastal environment.
However, this policy is being criticised as a politically motivated move. One cannot dismiss these claims because they seem to be partially true. The Inuit community, on whose betterment the agreement primarily focuses, is afterall a minority group in the country who were the victims of discrimination for ages. Justin Trudeau, the incumbent PM of Canada is seeking re-election in October 2019. Thus, critics term the government’s decision as one to woo votes and win the confidence of the people. Apart from this, the agreement says that “no new human activities will be allowed to occur in the area for up to five years, with a few exceptions.” The question is if a 5-year ban on human activities would prove effective at all and whether the exceptions in the notified areas will be able to serve their true purpose. As it was noted earlier, the activities of the previous decades had deteriorated the condition of the area. While it is uncertain if the 5-year ban will be extended, this short span is not sufficient for a sustainable revival of the Arctic. Thus lies a risk of economic growth coming to a halt and simultaneously no significant development towards environmental restoration taking place.
Nevertheless, one thing to be noted here is that prior to the announcement of PMAs, the Canadian government had announced that it would actively explore for oil and natural gas in the Arctic. It is estimated that the proposed area of PMAs contains 56 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 8 billion barrels of oil. However, the government has banned all activities pertaining to the extraction of these resources. This shows the government’s integrity and sends the message that Canada is serious and determined to battle against climate change. At the end, no matter the motive, what counts is the result. The initiative is one which not only empowers a certain section of the country but also helps the world delay an impending climate crisis and take up arms to promote sustainable development. Yes, agreeing to the fact that PMAs are not a panacea to climate change, it is something to begin with. It will slow down global warming and mitigate the effects thereof. To ensure success, they must be taken up together with other measures to tackle global warming and climate change. PMAs should be notified by all countries that are a part of the Arctic region. Such countries should draw inspiration from Canada and ban maximum anthropogenic activities in the region. A ban on industrial and human affairs in the region will, most definitely, help revive and restore the lost biodiversity and reduce global warming. Thus, hoping for a better future.
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