Robert Huebert was a PhD candidate with an interest in Canadian security and the high seas when an American icebreaker went through the Northwest Passage without permission.
It was 1985 and the Canadian government was furious at the American icebreaker for entering the Northwest Passage unauthorized. Huebert, meanwhile, saw the icebreaker’s entrance as a connection between climate change and Arctic security — and not just in the traditional definition.
“When I say Arctic security, most people will immediately start thinking in terms of traditional military security. And I say, yes, that’s there. But I also include in there environmental security,” he says, adding that both environmental and geopolitical pressures on the Arctic environment are concerns people need to understand today.
But, Huebert, an associate professor of political science at the University of Calgary specializing in circumpolar relations and ocean politics, says the bigger threat to Canada’s Arctic security is climate change, which could impact the entire world, and threaten Canadians, beginning with the Indigenous peoples living in the northern region.
The melting of the ice cover in the Arctic is a crucial and dangerous environmental event as it affects not only Canada but other countries that could cease to exist due to rising sea levels.
“For the first time that we’ve existed as a species, we will be seeing the ice diminish, particularly as the ice melts from Greenland and from Antarctica,” says Huebert. “We’re also going to be seeing sea levels rise. We’re going to see warming temperatures that is going to be dramatically altering the fauna and the flora of the region.”
According to Huebert, the effects of climate change will be directly felt in the Arctic. In some cases, depending on the location, roads, airports and communities may be hit. The biggest impact the effects of the changing Arctic will have are on those living in the northern region, in Canada and other countries bordering the area.
During the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26 in Glasgow, U.K., a delegation from the Inuit Circumpolar Council called on the world leaders for extraordinary actions, as living with climate change has been their reality for many years.
According to their press release, their three main calls of action were to “make unprecedented and massive efforts to cap global temperature rise, value Indigenous knowledge and leadership in climate action and support Indigenous participation in climate governance, [and] recognize the oceans and cryosphere as critical ecosystems that must be protected through partnership with Inuit.”
Former Indigenous protocol specialist Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes says the relationship between the Indigenous peoples of Northern Canada and Mother Earth is an important one. The effects of climate change in the north impacts the Indigenous peoples in all aspects.
“The habitat is being lost and melted for the polar bears, seals and walruses and other marine life up there and mammals. Also, sea levels on this planet are rising,” she says.
Understanding the importance and dangers of climate change is an important one. According to Huebert, educating young minds about climate change and its negatives is one of the important steps to take toward making a change for the better.
Like the Inuit leaders, Huebert believes the international community has a responsibility toward climate change and they should work together to help prevent any further damage. But, he says, there are challenges.
“Environmental change demands trust and cooperation amongst all members of the international community,” he says.
“The problem is that when you’re facing countries that are trying to actively disable you as a society to use the hybrid warfare, cyber warfare and other techniques that are now available to try to basically engineer, if not collapse, really weakening of your society, the question arises then, how do you have common cause to work with those same societies to try to solve the climate change?”