A young Canmore woman is at a United Nations conference in Rio de Janeiro this week as part of a group of students trying to get the attention of world leaders to protect Antarctica and the Arctic.
Leah Pengelly is attending the 20th annual conference of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development June 16-24, which is in recognition of the significance of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio.
She’s there as part of a 14-member delegation that is made up entirely of alumni of the Students on Ice Program – an organization offering unique educational expeditions to the Antarctic and the Arctic.
“Our main objective is to ensure the Poles aren’t forgotten in their decisions,” said Pengelly, 20, who is currently studying marine biology and oceanology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
“Until fairly recently, there hasn’t been any discussion at all on sustainable development of the Poles.”
The Students on Ice alumni are making four recommendations as part of their presentation at the summit: recognize the importance of the polar regions as an emerging challenge in the context of sustainable development; strive for carbon neutrality in Antarctica; recognize the rights of indigenous communities when developing the Arctic; and protect polar oceans in order to protect global oceans.
Pengelly said the polar regions are of critical importance to global sustainable development, noting these regions are among the first to experience the affects of climate change.
As Arctic ice sheets and sea ice continue to melt, she said there will be vast areas increasingly opening up to trade, transport, mineral exploration and oil and gas development.
“Right now the Canadian government is opening up development in the Arctic and a lot of other nations have raised concerns there’s not enough research being done,” said Pengelly, who went to the Arctic in 2008 with Students on Ice.
Pengelly said she is extremely passionate about the polar regions and believed the time was right for her to get active in speaking up for the environment.
“I grew up in the Bow Valley surrounded by wild places and when I traveled when I was younger, my parents often took us to national parks and I always saw the green side of the planet,” she said.
“It wasn’t until I went to the Arctic and traveled more on my own that I started to see the world isn’t this pristine green place that I thought it was when I was younger. It was a wake up call to start acting instead of just being passionate about the environment.”
To see the full presentation the Students on Ice will make at the Rio conference, go to www.soidelegation.com