This case, brought before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights by Athabaskan people living in Canada, concerned alleged rights violations relating to Arctic warming and melting caused by Canadian black carbon emissions. The case alleged that Canada, by failing to regulate black carbon emissions, had violated various human rights of the Athabaskan people, including their rights to health, subsistence, property, and culture.
The applicants in this case allege that Canada’s emissions of black carbon, which is a component of sooty fine-particle pollution and stems largely from diesel emissions and the burning of biomass, is particularly harmful to their rights and way of life because it is emitted in or near the Arctic.
The applicants submit that the warming effect of black carbon on the global climate is second only to carbon dioxide. In the Arctic, black carbon warms in two ways: it absorbs sunlight in the air, and it reduces the reflectivity of ice and snow-covered surfaces, accelerating their rate of melting.
In particular, the applicants cite their right to culture, particularly their ability to transmit their cultural knowledge to future generations, because “Arctic warming and melting has made the weather, the hunt, and the behaviors and occurrence of fish and wildlife so erratic that elders no longer feel confident in teaching younger people traditional ways.”
The also argue that warming and melting has affected the integrity of the land, compromising their right to property. This includes floods, forest fires, melting permafrost, erosion-related harms and landslides, as well as the destruction of cultural and historic sites and increased difficulty in accessing resources. The Athabaskans also invoke their right to means of subsistence, citing difficulties in accessing traditional food sources and adverse effects on biodiversity. Lastly, they cite their right to health, arguing that the loss of traditional foods has adversely affected the Athabaskan way of life. Melting permafrost is affecting water quality, and the loss of traditional food sources is forcing the people to rely on purchased food, leading to increases in the prevalence of chronic diseases.
Before the Commission, the applicants allege that the Canadian state’s acts and omissions represent an ongoing violation of their human rights, and that there are no domestic remedies suitable for addressing these violations. They argue that Canada has failed to take action to reduce black carbon emissions, and that such action could substantially remedy the Arctic warming and melting that are causing the violations at stake. They accordingly request the Commission to investigate and confirm the alleged harms; set forth the facts and applicable law, declaring a violation of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man; and recommend steps to limit black carbon emissions and protect Arctic Athabaskan culture and resources from Arctic warming and melting.
Inter-American Commission of Human Rights
23 April 2013
Status of case:
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Arctic Athabaskan Peoples v. Canada, petition submitted on 23 April 2013, case pending.
For more on this petition, see
The full text of the petition has been made available here by EarthJustice here: https://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/AAC_PETITION_13-04-23a.pdf
For a summary of the petition, provided by EarthJustice, click here: https://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/library/legal_docs/summary-of-inuit-petition-to-inter-american-council-on-human-rights.pdf
Agnieszka Szpak, ‘Arctic Athabaskan Council’s Petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Climate Change—Business as Usual or a Breakthrough?’ 162 Climatic Change (2020) 1575–1593.