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Activists: U.S. emissions violate rights

WASHINGTON --Northern Canadians told an international commission Thursday that carbon emissions from the United States have contributed so much to global warming that they should be considered a human rights violation. One activist said temperatures have climbed so much that Arctic residents need air conditioners.

The case was pressed by the Inuit community before the 34-nation Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In a petition, the group asked the commission's assistance "in obtaining relief" from the impact of global warming, and makes specific reference to the United States as the country most responsible for the phenomenon.

The commission, however, lacks the legal authority to compel the United States to take action.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier, an Inuit activist, said the well-being of her people is under threat -- and that the need for air conditioning is just one example of the spread of global warming.

Climate change, she said is "destroying our right to life, health property and means of subsistence," she said. "States that do not recognize these impacts and take action violate our human rights."

She said ice formations are much more likely to detach from land, and take unsuspecting hunters out to sea where they face an uncertain fate.

Beyond that, she said hunters can no longer be sure of ice thickness and whether it is safe to travel.

"Many hunters have been killed or seriously injured after falling through ice that was traditionally known to be safe," she said.

The United States did not respond to the Inuit claims before the commission, an arm of the Organization of American States. The Bush administration has said it is taking steps to reduce global warming, but domestic and international critics say it is not doing enough, given that the United States is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

Scientists generally agree the Arctic is the first place on Earth to be affected by rising global temperatures. They say that unless developed nations such as the United States -- responsible for one-fourth of world's greenhouse gases -- do not dramatically reduce their emissions within the next 15 years, the Arctic ice likely will melt by the end of the century.

The Inuit population hails from Canada, Russia and Greenland, as well as Alaska, where they are known as Eskimos. They have been trying to tell the world for more than a decade about the shifting winds and thinning ice that have damaged the hunting grounds the Northern peoples have used for thousands of years.

Watt-Cloutier was nominated with former Vice President Al Gore for a Nobel Peace Prize for their work on climate change.