The far north will assume a leading
role in the war against climate change now that the U.S. has replaced
Canada as the leader of the Arctic Council. On Friday April 24th
2015, the U.S. assumed the leadership of the international body that
is charged with addressing climate change and other important issues
facing the Arctic. The Council’s mandate is to protect the Arctic
environment and promote sustainable development in the northern
States, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Russia and
Arctic Indigenous Peoples. Each nation is given the opportunity to
lead the Council for two years on a rotating basis.
of the Arctic as the region is on the front lines of climate change.
Some of the key interrelated Arctic issues that need to be addressed
sea ice, anomalous
traffic, and warming
causing GHGs to leech from the permafrost.
biennial meeting in Iqaluit, ministers signed a Declaration that
reaffirmed each nation’s commitment to maintaining peace in the
Arctic, sustaining indigenous communities, and combating climate
change in the region.
pro-industry, pro-fossil fuels and pro-shipping. Going into the
Iqaluit meeting, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged that
governments are not moving fast enough to avert a climate disaster.
This statement was directed in part at Canada, one of the world’s
most egregious climate laggards.
during its tenure on a number of fronts. With Canada at the helm, the
Arctic Council has been anemic on environmental protection and
climate change. Canada’s support for fossil fuels and feckless
climate leadership have hindered environmental action from the
increases the risks from flooding that could inundate entire northern
communities. Several environmental organizations have criticized
Canada’s chairmanship of the Council. Greenpeace Canada Arctic
Khan said that under Canada’s leadership, the Council produced
“poor outcomes that saw corporate interest acquire a stronger voice
in the pan-Arctic forum, and environmental protection fall low in the
urged the U.S. to do more with the chairmanship of the Council than
Canada. A number of groups have also asked the US government to put
environmental and climate issues at the forefront of the Council
agenda. This was also the message contained in an open letter from
British actor Emma Thompson to retired Coast Guard admiral Robert
Papp, the U.S. special representative for the Arctic. “It should be
noted that unlike its preceding chair, the U.S. is at least actively
embracing climate change emissions reduction and environmental
protection during its two-year mandate at the Arctic Council’s
helm,” Thompson said.
foreign ministers framed copies of its Declaration on the Future of
the Arctic. It was signed by almost 2,000 prominent figures including
scientists, politicians, religious leaders, intellectuals and
and Secretary Kerry, the U.S. has been taking huge strides to combat
climate change and there is every reason to believe that this will
extend to their chairmanship of the Council.
to shift the priorities of the Council and focus on climate change
and the environment. In his address to the eight nation ministerial
gathering in Iqaluit, Secretary Kerry
said Council nations “must do everything we can to prevent worse
impacts [from GHG emissions]…The Arctic Council can do more on
climate change,” Mr. Kerry added.
agenda for the Council over the next two years. The U.S. has already
made progress securing a pledge to do more to fight black carbon and
methane. Black carbon is soot that settles on snow and ice and makes
the ice absorb more energy from the sun causing it to melt even
faster. A major part of the soot problem in the Arctic comes from
diesel generators that are used to supply heat to the four million
people that live there. Secretary Kerry
said, “one of the most important things we can do for the people of
the region is help them with renewable, clean energy.” Other
sources of black carbon include oil-well flaring and open burning of
forests and grasslands.
years on the Council will be “One Arctic: Shared Opportunities,
Challenges and Responsibilities.” and climate change will be front
and center. “There’s only ‘one Arctic’ and all of us – the
United States, other nations, indigenous peoples, and Arctic
communities – must join together to ensure responsible stewardship
of this incredible region,” Kerry said at the meeting.
pleased to see the U.S. is making climate change mitigation and ocean
protection a priority for their two year term.”
contentious Arctic issues. Canada was criticized for its support for
Arctic oil exploration leading Khan to say, “during Canada’s
chairmanship, the oil industry was given unfettered access to Arctic
leaders through the creation of the Arctic Economic Council.” It
remains to be seen how much this will change under American
that can be expected from US leadership, however a moratorium on
Arctic drilling is not expected to be one of them. The U.S. is
providing oil leases despite the risks
associated with drilling for oil in the Arctic.
Justice, Dan Ritzman, Alaska Program Director for Sierra Club’s
Our Wild America Campaign, warns against drilling in the Arctic:
place we should be drilling for oil. The risks to wildlife, to
subsistence communities, and to the climate are clear. Equally clear
is the need for the U.S. to take a leadership role on climate,
especially as it takes over the Arctic Council next year. Real
progress on climate requires the administration begin leaving dirty
fuels in the ground, starting with the Arctic Ocean”.
Papp, “Protecting the Arctic from oil drilling goes hand in hand
with protecting the world from the worst impacts of climate change.”
who support Greenpeace’s call for an “Arctic Sanctuary,” which
would see the Arctic Ocean protected from oil drilling, industrial
fishing and military activity. With so many nations vying for access
to Arctic resources, creating a Sanctuary may be the best way to
protect the region and preempt potential conflicts in the region.
not been forthcoming under Canada’s leadership of the Council.
Political concerns expressed by Canada over events in the Ukraine caused Russia’s
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to boycott the Iqaluit summit. Russia
has even allowed a barge filled with oil to drift across the Arctic
Ocean. It is now frozen in the ice about 80 kilometres off Russia’s
northeast coast where it threatens the summer habitat of Pacific
importance of ongoing cooperation with Russia despite the situation
in the Ukraine. “The Obama administration has been very clear
that Arctic co-operation must continue,” said Michael
Byers, international affairs professor at the University of
British Columbia, “that the issues of climate change in the
Arctic are simply too important to be caught up in the tensions in
Ukraine and eastern Europe,” Byers said.
Tuomioja, said, “its in no one’s interest to let problems
elsewhere impact cooperation in the Arctic.
better under U.S. leadership and it may even increase the prospects
of securing a global climate agreement. It is hoped that the world
will come together to sign a global emissions agreement at the
forthcoming climate talks planned for Paris at the end of the year.
The Obama administration has expressed hope that the changes observed
in the Arctic will add urgency to the Paris proceedings.
help to lay the foundation for an agreement in Paris. Secretary Kerry
has indicated that he plans to use U.S. leadership of the Council to
highlight the connection between melting ice in the Arctic and
environmental effects around the globe.
to all of us, and this is an opportune time for the U.S. to take
the reigns from Canada. The fact that America is now at the head of
the Council bodes well for global efforts to address climate change
and other environmental issues.