How This Lawyer Became an Advocate for All Life

Parvati’s epic journey to the North Pole to raise awareness of the melting Arctic sea ice also marked the beginning of a wonderful new chapter in my life. As a result of Parvati’s journey, I learned for the first time that Arctic sea ice, which is the Earth’s air conditioning system, was melting with dire consequences to all life. Protecting the Arctic Ocean from further loss of sea ice is critical to keeping our planet cool and ensuring healthy agriculture, balanced climate patterns, and harmonious ecosystems, globally.

When Parvati asked me to become one of the co-founders of Parvati.org to support a healthy future for all, I welcomed the opportunity. In 2015, we focused on stopping plans for seismic testing in Baffin Bay, a key habitat for whales, scheduled for the following year. Seismic testing uses sonic blasts to look for oil and gas deposits buried deep under the seabed. It is a violent and traumatic event for marine animals, subjecting them to sounds thousands of times louder than a jet engine, every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for weeks on end. Arctic seabed oil and gas must remain unexploited to mitigate global warming. Planning to extract and burn fossil fuels in this environmentally sensitive region was simply nonsensical.

I took the initiative to conduct research into the validity of oil and gas exploration permits in the vicinity that had been held by Shell Canada since 1971. I discovered that the permits, which had been delaying the creation of a national marine park at the northernmost tip of Baffin Island for decades, had actually expired in 1979. The government official charged with overseeing Shell’s permits could not “point to a specific document” to prove the permits were renewed after 1979. Nonetheless, the official deemed the permits “valid and subsisting”. I immediately wrote a legal brief summarizing why the permits had expired, and made my research available to media and other interested parties, including Greenpeace and WWF and all major Canadian political parties.

The discovery prompted Shell to relinquish the permits. It was deeply rewarding to have played a key role in removing this obstacle to creating Canada’s largest national protected area—Tallurutiup Imanga—with an area of 109,000 square kilometres. But with the relentless rapid decline of Arctic sea ice, and with commercial interests (shipping, fishing and oil and gas) eager to take advantage of the Arctic Ocean’s new vulnerability, we quickly realized that robust protection was needed for the entire Arctic Ocean.

Our simple and immediately realizable solution is the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary (MAPS). MAPS prohibits all exploitation and militarization in the Arctic Ocean north of the Arctic Circle, thereby protecting remaining sea ice and creating favourable conditions for sea ice to regenerate. MAPS therefore mitigates the extreme weather events that result in global food and water shortages, climate refugees, destabilized societies, poverty and loss of life.

In late 2015, I wrote the international Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary (MAPS) Treaty, which our volunteers translated into all official United Nations languages and distributed to the heads of government for all UN member states for their formal endorsement. Since that time, we have been in ongoing dialogue with world governments regarding the MAPS Treaty. Two world leaders—the Prime Minister of Samoa and the Prime Minister of Cook Islands—have already signed the MAPS Treaty and more signatures are expected soon.

I recently represented Parvati.org and MAPS at COP24, the world climate conference, held in Katowice, Poland. It was wonderful to speak with delegates from all around the world about the critical urgency of protecting the Arctic Ocean for the benefit of all life on Earth. Because of the key role it plays in keeping our entire global climate stable, the Arctic Ocean is a global concern, not a regional one. The countries situated farthest from the Arctic Ocean are already suffering the effects of the loss of Arctic sea ice. The MAPS Treaty gives these particularly climate vulnerable nations a powerful voice regarding the fate of the Arctic Ocean.

The Arctic Ocean is still one of the most pristine regions on Earth. In essence, it has always been an internationally protected area because of its year-round frozen seascape. To keep humanity safe for generations to come, it must always remain so. It is my honour and privilege to be a member of the all-volunteer team at Parvati.org helping to create the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary, and I look forward to 2019 as the year MAPS will be realized for the good of all.

Vandana Erin Ryder is the General Counsel for Parvati.org. Her extensive legal background includes a career at a major Canadian law firm, and years of service at the Law Society of British Columbia and the British Columbia Ministry of the Attorney General. Vandana is the author of the MAPS, Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary Treaty.