United Nations Environment Programme

United Nations Environment Programme

Barrow Alaska – Host of 2007 North American Celebrations


Source: United Nations Environment Programme

Barrow, Alaska - While Tromso, Norway is gearing up to host this year's international World Environment Day (WED) celebrations, a continent away, the Alaskan community of Barrow is preparing to host the North American WED festivities.

This year's WED theme, Melting Ice A Hot Topic?, resonates in the every-day lives of the citizens of the northernmost community of the United States, which until recently, had a daily minimum temperature below freezing 324 days of the year. Representing 65% of Barrow's population, the native Inupiat continue to preserve their whaling, hunting and fishing culture, affording them a unique vantage point from which to corroborate the latest scientific findings with regard to thawing permafrost, retreating sea ice and warming temperatures over the past few decades.

On 5 June, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) will bring together around the same table the holders of both community-based and science-based knowledge to explore the impacts of climate change and how arctic communities are adapting to this phenomenon.

The Town Hall meeting will offer a unique opportunity to various members of the Inupiat community, including an elder, a hunter and a fisherman, to share their observations on how climate change has affected their daily lives. Community members in the audience will also share their own observations.

From the scientific community, speakers will include Hajo Eicken, Associate Professor at the Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Alaska-Fairbanks; John Crump, Co-ordinator of Polar Issues at the UNEP GRID-Arendal Office based in Ottawa, Canada; and Richard Glenn, President of the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium (BASC).

Glenn Sheehan, Executive Director of the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium, noted: 'Barrow's people have worked with visiting scientific researchers for over 125 years, since the original International Polar Year (IPY). As 2007 marks another IPY, we are pleased to be participating in UNEP's event, which will bring the Barrow community and scientists together to address adaptation to climate change.'

'We appreciate the opportunity World Environment Day has given us to focus attention on the environmental changes occurring in Barrow and its surrounding communities, says City Mayor Nathaniel Olemaun Jr. 'We are trying to get everyone in the North Slope to participate in this important event,' he added.

The North Slope encompasses the most northern reaches of Alaska, including eight villages with a total population of 7,500 spread out over 89,000 square miles, roughly the size of the state of Oregon.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said:' What happens in the Arctic and the Antarctic is of direct interest to us all. UNEP's WED event in Barrow will give the people in this part of the world a voice. They have a story to tell, and we hope that the global community will be listening'.

Another highlight of the day will be the presentation of an award to the 9 year-old winner, among the 81 entries from Alaska, of the 2007 UNEP International Children's Painting Competition. The winner from Anchorage depicted the theme of climate change by showing a native Alaskan standing in a boat, holding out a life preserver to three polar bears whose heads are peeking out of a sea of melted ice.

In keeping with the tradition of being a people's event, World Environment Day in Barrow will also include a colorful demonstration of native Inupiat dances and the annual Eskimo blanket toss, which marks the beginning of the Nalukataq Spring Festival.

Mr Steiner added: 'The primary focus of the international community should and must be to reduce greenhouse gas emissions eventually to the up to 80 per cent deemed necessary by scientists to stabilize the atmosphere. But adaptation to climate change already underway is equally important, especially for vulnerable communities'.

'Native and indigenous peoples in the Arctic and in places like Barrow have, over millennia, coped and indeed thrived in conditions of extreme temperatures. They are learning now to cope with the realities of human-induced climate change. This evolving knowledge, these traditions and skills will be ever more crucial in a climate constrained world for not only the Inupiat people in Barrow but as an adaptation resource for communities across northerly latitudes,' he said.

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