Inuit leader wins UN award for activism against climate change

Inuit leader wins UN award for activism against climate change

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An Inuit activist whose tireless advocacy has raised global awareness about the devastating impact of climate change on Arctic communities will receive a prestigious lifetime achievement award from the United Nations today.

An Inuit activist whose tireless advocacy has raised global awareness about the devastating impact of climate change on Arctic communities will receive a prestigious lifetime achievement award from the United Nations today.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier, a 53-year-old political leader representing indigenous communities in Canada, Alaska, Greenland and Russia and a nominee for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, will receive the Mahbub ul Haq Award for Excellence in Human Development from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the 2007 Human Development Awards this evening at UN Headquarters in New York.

“Ms. Watt-Cloutier's life work is what human development is all about: helping people live healthier lives so they can realize their full potential,” said Kevin Watkins, Director of the Human Development Report Office, UN Development Programme (UNDP). “Her leadership and advocacy on behalf of Arctic communities have advanced the cause of human development around the world. Her strength and dedication should inspire us all.”

Born in a small village in Canada’s frozen north, Ms. Watt-Cloutier helped launch one of the world's first international legal actions on climate change, contending that unchecked greenhouse gas emissions from the United States violated Inuit cultural and environmental rights.

“The world must pay attention to what's happening to Arctic communities because we are the early warning system for the rest of the planet,” she said.

In addition to her work on climate change, she was an instrumental force behind a global campaign to ban industrial toxins that can cause infertility, cancer and brain damage.

The award Ms. Watt-Cloutier will receive was created in honour of Mahbub ul Haq, the pioneer who founded the global Human Development Report, an independent annual research project commissioned by UNDP to analyze major issues confronting humanity and recommend policy changes. The 2007 Human Development Report, due out in early November, focuses on climate change.

Human Development Awards are presented only every two to three years. This year, awards were also presented to research teams from Costa Rica, China, Chhattisgarh (a state of India), Guinea-Bissau and the Asia-Pacific region for excellence in human development policy analysis and advocacy.