Thursday, April 3, 2008

Climate seen stoking Arctic indigenous land claims

Climate seen stoking Arctic indigenous land claims
Wed Apr 2, 2008 4:03pm BST
By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

OSLO (Reuters) - Global warming has opened the European Arctic to firms exploiting timber, oil, gas and metals, and intensified a land rights battle with Sami reindeer herders whose way of life is under threat, an indigenous leader said.

Milder temperatures mean that birch and pine forests are edging north in Russia and the Nordic nations, shrinking the chill pastures where reindeer graze on lichen, said Lars-Anders Baer, a herder and president of the Sami Parliament in Sweden.

"This will make the fight over land rights even more important," he told Reuters on Wednesday. "If the circumstances for reindeer herding change dramatically then we need to have other foundations to work on."

"One thing is if we lose the reindeer. The other is if we lose the land. Then we are out of business," he said.

Global warming, blamed by the U.N. Climate Panel largely on human burning of fossil fuels, is happening twice as fast in the Arctic as the rest of the globe because darker soil and water, once exposed, soak up more heat than ice and snow.

This winter was the mildest on record in parts of the Nordic region and the change has enticed businesses to move into the previously inaccessible region.

Pulp and paper producers may expand operations as trees grow further north. Oil and gas companies are looking for new deposits from Alaska to the Barents Sea and mining companies are interested by Arctic deposits ranging from gold to uranium.

"Previously these resources were locked up by a harsh environment and a lot of ice," Baer said from a conference of indigenous peoples in Darwin, Australia.


"Now there's something of a Klondike (gold rush) feeling in the mineral industry," he said.

Indigenous peoples want to ensure they get a fair share, especially if reindeer herding declines.

Indigenous peoples in some regions of Alaska, Canada and Russia, had agreements with governments on managing land, he said. "In a Nordic context Norway is the most advanced, in Sweden and Finland there's still an open issue," he said.

High metals prices, for instance, were bringing interest in northern Sweden where Boliden has been producing copper, gold and silver at its Aitik mine since 1968. Other metals deposits range from iron ore to uranium.

In the Barents Sea off Norway, StatoilHydro opened the first gas field in September 2007. The Sami want a share even though their fisheries never took them so far offshore.

The Sami fear that climate change will mean frequent swings between frosts and thaws that will cover lichen with ice. Reindeer can die of starvation since their muzzles, which have evolved to dig through snow, are too soft to break through ice.

"If this is a trend then we may be in trouble," Baer said. This season, emergency feed for reindeer in ice-affected areas cost about 2 million euros ($3 million), with the government and herders splitting the bill.

He estimated that reindeer herds, farmed for everything from their meat to their antlers, totaled about 800,000-900,000 in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia.

-- For Reuters latest environment blogs click on:

Source URL:

No comments: