Speech by the head of the Jury and Board Elin Enge

Oslo Sophie Prize Ceremony June 15, 2005

Your Excellencies, Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

I have the great honour of formally announcing that the Sophie Prize 2005 has been awarded to the prominent Inuit leader and advocate for the environment Ms. Sheila Watt-Cloutier.

In Norway we live with the threat of climate change and the dramatic consequences it might cause to the environment and to our lives, as a worrying scenario for the future - a concern for our grandchildren or rather great grandchildren. In the Arctic the effects of climate change are felt now and have devastating effects on the life of the Inuit people. The rapidly melting ice is destroying their hunting grounds, their homes, their mobility– in short their culture.

Changes in the Arctic are dramatic. The ice is melting much faster than previously known – at nearly twice the rate as elsewhere on the globe, according to Arctic Climate Impact Assessment - a study backed by 300 international scientists. Still we live with an illusion of believing that we can protect ourselves from the effects of these changes. We act as frogs put in a kettle of lukewarm  water. The heat is turned on, but the change is so gradual that the frogs do not notice until it is too late….

 Sheila Watt- Cloutier has for the last 10 years fought to draw the world´s attention to the Arctic region as a barometer that measures the state of the world´s environment.

What happens to her people and their environment is a forewarning for the rest of the world in the coming 100 years. She urges the world leaders to act now and has intervened actively in the UN negotiations on Climate Change.

Her focus has been on the human and community-centred consequences of global climate change -- showing that small-island states and other vulnerable and marginalized people, like the Inuit, are already suffering the consequences of our excessive emissions of CO2. As the sea rises whole low-lying island communities will be flooded. As temperatures rise, draughts become more severe and poor people will starve.

Sheila is building an alliance with these other vulnerable regions and people of the world to work together to combat environmental destruction.

She is the most prominent leader of the Inuit as elected Chair of the Circumpolar Conference (ICC), representing 155 000 Inuit people living in Canada, the USA, Greenland and Russia. In this capacity, Sheila has been a pioneer in claiming that the destruction of the environment is a violation of human rights. The ICC is now petitioning the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to try their case, to show that the greenhouse gas emissions, in particular from the USA, are violating the collective human rights of the Inuit. Their lawyers state that: “ It is the responsibility of the United States, as the largest source of greenhouse gases, to take immediate action to protect the rights of the Inuit and others around the world.”

On plantations in countries in the South children are born with mental and physical deformities, caused by the use of  toxic chemicals. In the Arctic, Inuit mothers have to think twice before they breastfeed their babies in fear of poisoning them. Poisonous chemicals emitted as far away as South East Asia are transported by air and water to the pristine Arctic. The Inuits eat the poisoned fish and animals. PCB and other pollutants accumulate and are being passed on to the infants through the most basic nutrition of all foods, mother´s milk.

Sheila was in the forefront in the struggle to get the world leaders to agree on working towards eliminating pollutants, such as DDT and PCB, through the UN Global Convention on Persistant Organic Pollutants, which resulted in the Stockholm Convention.

These imminent threats to the Inuits´ environment have a detrimental affect on the Inuit way of life, a vibrant indigenous people that still draws heavily on traditional ecological wisdom of the elders. The rapid environmental change is destroying a culture that depends directly on the careful management of nature. 

The Inuits cannot risk the consequences of inaction or wait and see… can we???

The Sophie Board hopes that the Sophie Prize will inspire Sheila to continue her tireless effort to draw the worlds´s attention to the devastating human effects of climate change and toxic emissions.

I now have the great pleasure of inviting the Norwegian Minister of Environment , Mr Knut Arild Hareide, to come forward to hand over the Sophie prize of 2005, to Sheila Watt-Cloutier.