IPEN International Pollutants Elimination Network

INC-4 Press Luncheon and Briefing

report cover on background of Arctic scene with plastic pollution

Impacts on First Nations and Arctic Indigenous Peoples from Plastics, Petrochemicals, and Climate Change

First Nations and Indigenous leaders along with IPEN, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Environmental Defence, and Ecojustice held a lunch and a briefing on threats from plastics and chemicals to Indigenous Peoples.

Thursday, April 25

Noon to 1:30pm

University of Ottawa, Desmarais Building (Telfer)
55 Laurier Ave E, Ottawa
Room 12102, 12th Floor
Speakers included:
  • Vi Pangunnaaq Waghiyi, Member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council

  • Frankie Orona, Indigenous leader and Executive Director, Society of Native Nations

  • Delbert Pungowiyi, Yupik Elder and leader from Sivuqaq, Alaska

  • Lynn Rosales, Aamjiwnaang Environment Department, at Aamjiwnaang First Nation.

  • CJ Smith-White, elected councillor, Aamjiwnaang First Nation

  • Moderated by Pamela Miller, Executive Director, Alaska Community Action on Toxics and Co-chair, IPEN


As the Plastics Treaty negotiations come to Canada, First Nations and Arctic Indigenous leaders are joining with leading Canadian environmentalists and IPEN’s global environmental health network to express concerns about the interconnected threats from plastics, petrochemicals, and climate change. Together they are calling on Treaty delegates to advance an ambitious agreement that controls chemicals in plastics and limits plastic production.

Plastics are made from fossil fuels and chemicals, and as climate concerns are shifting other sectors toward electrification, the oil and gas industry are investing hugely in plastics and chemicals production.  Industry projections suggest plastics will account for 20% of oil consumption by 2050 and petrochemicals as much as 50%. Through these markets the industry intends to maintain their toxic production, regardless of the increasing health and climate risks for First Nations and Arctic Indigenous Peoples.

The Arctic is both a toxic source and sink in the current fossil fuel, plastic and chemical economy. This briefing will feature Arctic Indigenous Peoples stories from the North and the realities of First Nation communities who disproportionately experience the adverse impacts of the pollution created by fossil fuel processing and petrochemical and plastic production. From Canada’s Chemical Valley to the US Gulf States where First Nations are impacted by the escalating petrochemical build-out across Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. Forty percent of Canada’s chemical industry is located In Sarnia, Ontario where it exposes the Aamjiwnaang First Nation community to extreme levels of air and other types of pollution. The briefing will also discuss the life cycle of toxic chemicals and plastics that return to the Arctic as a hemispheric sink. 

Canada has 162,000km of Arctic coastline, and the harms from the plastic life cycle are magnified in the Arctic. Fossil fuels extracted from the region, often within Indigenous lands, exposes Indigenous Peoples to toxic chemicals. When plastic wastes are disposed around the world, the waste and its toxic chemicals are carried by atmospheric and oceanic currents to the Arctic, which acts as a “hemispheric sink” concentrating the toxic pollutants. 

The release and transport of these toxic pollutants is exacerbated by the rapid climate warming in the Arctic. This source-and-sink cycle results in increased health threats and food insecurity for Indigenous Peoples, as traditional food sources become scarce or contaminated. In the Canadian Arctic, more than one-third of households lack access to safe, healthy food. 

Historically, Canada historically played a leadership role in global chemical action. In 1987, Canada hosted one of the most successful environmental agreements, the Montreal Protocol, which has been so effective that the ozone layer is on track to fully recover by mid-century. Furthering this legacy, Canada was a leader in developing the Stockholm Convention, and in providing some of the foundational science on the toxic effects of on persistent organic pollutants (POPs) through the Northern Contaminants Program and the Arctic Monitoring Assessment Program. In 2001, Canada was the first nation to ratify the Convention.

Now Canada has a chance to play a leadership role once more. An ambitious Plastics Treaty that includes limits on plastic production and restricts the use of toxic chemicals is critical in meeting the Treaty’s goals of protecting human health and the environment.

The Arctic's Plastic Crisis

A timely report from Alaska Community Action on Toxics and IPEN highlights perspectives from Arctic Indigenous leaders and explains how plastics, chemicals, and climate change are interconnected crises that are particularly harmful to the Arctic and threaten Indigenous rights.

Read the report and explore audio and video excerpts from Native Alaskan leaders.

Trash and plastic waste with icebergs

IPEN science, data, and policy analyses on plastics