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I. INTRODUCTION 296 II. CLIMATE CHANGE IN THE NORTH: A VIOLATION OF THE RIGHT TO 299 HOUSING? A. The Right to Housing as an International Human Right 299 B. Inuit Housing 301 C. Elements of the Inuit's Right to Housing Threatened 303 by Climate Change in the Arctic 1. Availability of Services, Materials, Facilities and 303 Infrastructure 2. Location 305 3. Cultural Adequacy 307 III. IMPLICATIONS OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS APPROACH TO CLIMATE 308 CHANGE FOR THE INUIT A. Igloo as Icon: The Right to Housing and the Problem 309 of 'Traditional' Culture B. Courts and the Problem of Change: Static Culture and 312 'Frozen' Rights IV. CONCLUSION 315 Global climate change has triggered a period of great instability in the Arctic. Indigenous communities are experiencing rapid social and cultural transformation: changes in the physical landscape are contributing to the relentless pressures on their traditional ways of life, which, in large part, are dependent on the persistence of snow and ice. This paper is an exploration of what a 'human rights approach' to climate change can offer Inuit communities. It analyzes the potential contribution of the human right to housing, which recognizes that housing must be culturally adequate; that its location must allow access to employment and social facilities; and that certain services, materials, facilities, and infrastructure must be available to the dwellers. This right takes on particular significance for the Inuit because of the iconic nature of their traditional homes and building materials and the location and climate-specific nature of their ways of life. But can this right be harnessed to respond to the threats climate change poses to the ways of living of the Inuit without appealing to a static, traditional view of indigenous culture, a view that poses its own risks to the survival of their unique identity? The paper mounts a critical analysis of the prospects and boundaries of the right to housing, so that the human rights strategies--both discursive and legal--that the Inuit are beginning to employ in the face of climate change can be pursued with greater awareness of their implications, and thus with greater prospects for success. Emerging attempts to link climate change with human rights around the globe give the issues addressed in this paper significance for other marginalized communities considering rights strategies in response to climate change, from Alaska to Bangladesh.
Climate change (1) will impact every community on the planet and is already doing so in many small ways. The accretion of climate change could make a number of ways of life on earth untenable within only a few years. Some communities will be harder hit than others--Arctic (2) peoples are among those whose environment will change the fastest and most drastically, given climate change's particularly severe effects on the Polar Regions. (3) In addition, many of the poorest and most marginalized individuals will be severely affected. These individuals often live in environmentally sensitive areas, have few material resources to fall back on, and are usually indigenous inhabitants living lives that are connected to the land in ways many non-indigenous people find difficult to comprehend.
In the Canadian North, all these factors come together to produce a uniquely challenging situation. The sensitive Arctic environment is coupled with social disadvantage, where the indigenous peoples--who make up half the Arctic population (4)--have experienced colonial control of their lands, abuse and neglect at the hands of successive governments, and grave misunderstanding and denial of their needs and ways of life. This combination of factors makes the Inuit communities in Canada's North some of the most susceptible populations to the impacts of climate change. It is not hyperbolic to speak of the extinction of certain traditional Inuit practices because of climate change.
How can the Inuit respond to climate change? There are diverse options, but one potentially powerful approach communities are beginning to explore is human rights. In December 2005, a group of Inuit from the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC) (5) submitted a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) alleging that the United States violated their human rights through its greenhouse gas emitting activities. (6) The petition alleges wide-ranging human rights violations, including violations of the following rights: the right to the benefits of culture; the right to property; the right to health, life, and physical integrity; the right to security; the right to a means of subsistence; and the right to residence, movement, and inviolability of the home. (7) Though the petition claims several related rights, such as the right to inviolability of the home and the right to property, the Inuit Petition does not specifically claim a right to housing as a human right because it is not a right recognized in the conventions and declarations over which the IACHR has jurisdiction. (8)
However, when Inuit organizations actively use human rights language or discourse to respond to climate change, they often appeal to their unique traditional housing and its importance to their cultural survival. If news articles or press releases (in both Inuit generated and "southern" media) are accompanied by a photograph, it often features an igloo. (9) In fact, the over-exposed, black and white photograph of the fur-clad hunter standing beside a hide-covered sled in front of a snow-block igloo is the prototypical "southern" representation of the Inuit. The iconic image of the igloo is clearly a powerful and emotive one, and the frequency with which this image recurs in media representations of the Inuit has led this author to consider the potential of alleging the violation of the right to housing as a strategy for the Inuit to employ in response to climate change.
To the outsider, housing constitutes a central image of the Inuit. However, the relationship of the Inuit to the igloo is more complex than would first appear. Whether appeals to the housing can, in fact, offer a helpful solution to the Inuit in the face of climate change is a question fraught with issues of identity, cultural portrayal, and adaptation.
The second section of this Article examines whether climate change in the Canadian North constitutes a violation of the right to housing. Section II.A sets out the international basis for the right to housing and analyzes its interpretation before turning to an examination of Inuit housing in Canada in Section. II. B. Section II. C then applies the right to housing to the impacts of climate change in the north, detailing the ways in which climate change can be said to violate the right. Section III moves to an examination of the implications for the Inuit in employing a human rights approach through the right to housing. Section III. A discusses the implications of a human rights discourse centered on the right to housing, before turning to an examination of legal strategies and the right to housing in Section III. B. Section IV offers conclusions about the potentials and limitations of the right to housing as a response to climate change for the Inuit, with reference to issues of cultural survival and adaptation.
II. CLIMATE CHANGE IN THE NORTH: A VIOLATION OF THE RIGHT TO HOSING?
A. The Right to Housing as and International Human Right
Major international human rights treaties and declarations, regional conventions, and over fifty national constitutions contain the right to housing. (10) The clearest international legal expression of the right comes from the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), Article 11(1):
The States Parties to the Present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps o ensure the realization of this right ... (11)
The rights set out in Article 11 are tempered by the clauses of Aricle 2, which provides that the rights are only binding upon a signatory "to the maximum of its available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the full realisation of the rights." (12) The clauses of Article 2 respond to state parties' concerns regarding the (largely financial) impact an immediate recognition of some of the Covenant rights would impose. They were not, however, intended to provide ka mechanism for states to abrogate responsibility for the Covenant rights would impose. They were not, however, intended to provide a mechanism for states to abrogate responsibility for the implementation of socio-economic rights, and, as the committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR) makes clear, states must guarantee and protect certain aspects of the right to housing immediately. (13)
The CESCR has stated that "a general decline in living and housing conditions, …