Discussion on Climate Change and the Impact on Livelihoods

February 9, 2023

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Today, we are talking about an extremely important subject that we all face. I’m grateful to see lots of students and youth in the audience. One of the most important aspects of the work we are doing is to involve generations who will be in charge of their own future, and we must remember that.

I am delighted to be back in Finland.

Over the years, in my previous professional life, I have visited Finland many times to work with Arctic partners, both as a representative of Inuit in Canada and as former ambassador for both Denmark and Circumpolar Affairs.

Today, I am here as governor general of Canada to represent my country, to celebrate our ties and to reinforce our friendship. I’m also here as an Indigenous person who calls the Arctic her home.

In November, our countries marked 75 years of diplomatic relations. Together, we’re working to strengthen our scientific, cultural and economic co-operation. We are long-standing partners in the Arctic, a region that is experiencing many challenges. None more urgent than climate change.

It will take all of us, working together, to ensure we remain focused on the path ahead.

Scientists have been tracking the impact of climate change in the Arctic for years. Some are feeling that change first-hand.

Indigenous people living in the Arctic region have seen the changes, they have felt and lived those impacts caused by climate change long before they came to the attention of the global community. The Arctic was, in fact, where things were changing most rapidly.

Temperatures are warming. Sea ice is melting. The natural rhythm of the North is changing.

In Canada, Inuit have lived in northern climates, near the water and ice, for millennia.

During the early years of the Arctic Council, it was very important for Indigenous peoples to be permanent participants of this international forum. We were reporting on how lives were being impacted in these communities. We must remember that this is a human issue.

Today, traditional knowledge—including the ways of travel, and the places to hunt, fish and gather food—is changing because of a warming Arctic.

Traditional knowledge can no longer confirm to hunters and fishers that the ice is as thick as it should be, and we experience fatalities and other accidents because of it.

And Inuit aren’t the only people to experience this, nor is Canada the only country impacted—a warming Arctic has far-reaching consequences.

What we do as stewards of the Arctic, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, has a direct impact globally.

Recently, in Canada, we announced a national strategy on adaptation. I am very pleased about that because mitigation is no longer an option. Right now, our Northern communities require support to adapt to the changes.

We need to ensure that when we think about adaptation to climate change, that Indigenous peoples and the Arctic regions are included in this work.

Yet we cannot ignore that how we do things is just as important as what we do.

We must collaborate, across borders, between Arctic and non-Arctic nations, and with the full partnership of northerners, including Indigenous peoples.

Indigenous peoples—the world’s knowledge keepers—have lived on and cared for this land for millennia, and they can teach us so much about conservation, about reducing emissions, about sustainable living and living with the land.

Finland’s Strategy for Arctic Policy includes the promotion of welfare and the rights of the Sámi people, climate change mitigation and adaptation, infrastructure and more. These priorities align with Canada’s own.

Finland is also a leader in setting targets for climate change, aiming to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2035. In Canada, we have legislated a net-zero target by 2050. We will keep looking to Finland for inspiration, even as we strive to do better and be better for the Arctic’s future.

One of the biggest obstacles we face in achieving our goals is the current disruption of the Arctic Council’s work. In its relatively short history, the Council has addressed many challenges, such as becoming the first international fora to take action on black carbon and methane emissions.

The President talked about the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS), which was in place before the Arctic Council. When we worked through the AEPS, each country felt we needed to deal with sustainable development and international co-operation among Arctic states. This is how we were able to negotiate the Arctic Council, and Finland was always supportive of Canada’s leadership.

But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has impacted how we use this international forum for change. Sadly, we are approaching the one-year anniversary of this unconscionable attack. One year of suffering and displacement and destruction. We are left with an ongoing humanitarian crisis felt and heard around the world. Yet, let us not lose hope for peace, and an end to the conflict.

This crisis, and the ensuing instability, is pushing countries like ours to find different ways to move forward on Arctic issues. It forces us to think creatively about solutions, as Arctic nations and as leaders in renewable energy and sustainability. It reinforces that ours must be a collective and inclusive effort, including governments, scientists, Indigenous peoples and everyone who lives in and cares for the North. We all have a responsibility for the world we create, so we should all have a voice.

I’d like to leave you with two words, one Finnish, one in my language, Inuktitut, both of which are like each other: Sisu and ajuinnata.

Sisu is a Finnish term that can mean strength of will, determination, perseverance and acting rationally in the face of adversity. And I often use the word ajuinnata, a similar concept that has great meaning for Inuit.

When I was growing up, at the end of conversations between Eders in our community, they would look at each other and say ajuinnata, and that is something that has stayed with me since my childhood.

It means persevering in the face of obstacles. It means to never give up. These two words transcend language and culture—it connects us to our task and to each other.

In the spirit of both ajuinnata and sisu, we must find ways to move forward—

To act now, when it is most critical.

To combat climate change at the source, treating both the symptoms and the disease.

To inspire collaboration between Arctic and non-Arctic nations, between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

In you, I see citizens of a proud Arctic and our allies in the hard but necessary tasks ahead.

I am here—Canada is here—to walk the journey together towards a better tomorrow.

The future lies with you. And so does our hope. Let’s get to work.

Thank you.