Students take to Poland to promote policy

Brenna Owen, ArtSci ’14, and Kristine O’Reilley, MSc ’16, address importance of Arctic issues at UN conference

A UN climate change conference, which took place in Bangkok.
A UN climate change conference, which took place in Bangkok.
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On Nov. 13, two Queen’s students are heading to Poland to make their mark in the Arctic.

Brenna Owen and Kristine O’Rielly are set to attend the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, as accredited delegates of the Students on Ice Alumni Delegation.

The conference gathers together 15,000 delegates to have high-level discussions on climate change and how to follow up on the Kyoto Protocol.

The students are working on a proposed recommendation that they hope will draw attention to pervasive problems in Canada’s far North, which they claim aren’t being properly addressed.

The document will emphasize the importance of taking urgent action on climate issues at the North and South Poles, Owen said.

The aim of her recommendation, she said, is to secure the rights of indigenous groups in the the Arctic.

The paper also recommends setting up protections that will mitigate the effects of climate change in the north.

The paper is still in a working draft but will focus on recognizing the rights of Indigenous people across the north, not just in Canada in terms of climate change.

“I am meeting with Queen’s Biology professor John Smol next week to discuss Arctic policy — he will help us fine tune the last stages of our recommendation paper,” Owen, ArtSci ’14, said.

While developed countries are the main source of air pollution and climate change, we are also the least affected by it, she said.

Owen and O’Rielly, a first-year Masters of Science student, will be presenting the recommendation paper to the Canadian Minister of the Environment, Leona Aglukkaq.

Owen’s group will be amongst the only youth to attend this conference. Charlie Nakashuk from Pangnirtung, Nunavut will also be attending with them.

“The amount of apathy we see here in Ontario concerning problems of climate change is because we haven’t really experienced the effects of climate change for ourselves,” she said.

Owen’s interest in Arctic issues began in 2008, she said, when she travelled with the organization Students on Ice throughout Iqaluit and up the coast of Baffin Island.

She interacted closely with members of a small community, Qikiqtarjuaq, located on the eastern coast of Baffin Island.

Owen said the trip affected her emotionally, sparking her motivation to help change the future of the climate.

Within the next 20 to 40 years, it has been predicted that summer sea ice in the Arctic will melt, she said, adding the lack of ice will severely affect food security of indigenous groups in the area, who hunt seal, walrus and fish.

“Seals come up for air every 20 minutes or so, breathing through small holes in the ice above them. Hunters use this time to capture the seal, but with no ice, they will be able to do no such thing,” she said.

The ice conditions remain less predictable, she also said, increasing the risk of death of hunters who hunt on the ice.

“When the permafrost [also] begins to thaw, it will cause buildings to crumble and roads to crack,” she said.

Large corporations are entering these northern areas and endangering them, she said

“In 2012, the Harper government auctioned off an area of the Arctic Ocean to energy companies for experimentation: an area half the size of lake Ontario,” Owen said.

”This is absolutely ludicrous and something that simply cannot be allowed ... there are things that can be done that are not being done.”

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