Chill in the air as Arc­tic na­tions meet to talk about en­vi­ron­ment


Arc­tic na­tions warned Fri­day of the dan­gers fac­ing the en­vi­ron­ment and the peo­ples of the re­mote re­gion, as it now also be­comes a new flash­point in global ten­sions with Rus­sia.

The Arc­tic is warm­ing twice as fast as ev­ery­where else on the globe and U. S. of­fi­cials last month said the Arc­tic sea ice had reached its low­est win­ter point since satel­lite ob­ser­va­tions be­gan in the late 1970s.

While the po­lar melt is of ma­jor con­cern be­cause of ris­ing sea lev­els, it is also open­ing up new ocean trade routes, and of­fer­ing the tan­ta­liz­ing prom­ise of un­tapped off­shore oil and gas fields in an en­ergy- hun­gry world.

“One of the big­gest chal­lenges every­body has talked about to­day is cli­mate change. The num­bers are alarm­ing — and that’s putting it mildly,” U. S. Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry told min­is­ters as the United States took over from Canada as the chair­man of the Arc­tic Coun­cil.

“As we take nec­es­sary steps to pre­pare for cli­mate change, we also have a shared re­spon­si­bil­ity to do ev­ery­thing we can to slow its ad­vance, and we can­not af­ford to take our eye off that ball.”

He was meet­ing in the small north­east­ern Canadian town of Iqaluit, on Baf­fin Is­land, with other min­is­ters from Canada, Den­mark, Fin­land, Ice­land, Nor­way, Rus­sia and Swe­den.

The town, which grew up around a World War II U. S. air base, now boasts a pop­u­la­tion of about 7,500, with more res­i­dents flock­ing to the re­mote re­gion, drawn by work in iron ore and di­a­mond mines.

The U. S. is putting for­ward a frame­work ac­tion plan to rein in meth­ane gas emis­sions and black car­bon — or soot — cre­ated through such ac­tiv­i­ties as gas flar­ing or oil ex­plo­ration.

It would mark the first time that the Arc­tic Coun­cil has reached an ac­cord to work to­gether to mit­i­gate the ef­fects of cli­mate change through re­gional ac­tion.

A frame­work ac­cord on work­ing to re­duce black soot and meth­ane “sends a hugely im­por­tant mes­sage that cli­mate change mit­i­ga­tion can be or­ga­nized re­gion­ally as well as glob­ally,” said Alaskan fish­er­man Michael Stick­man, chair­man of the Arc­tic Athabaskan Coun­cil ( AAC).

Kerry warned black car­bon is up to 2,000 times more po­tent than car­bon diox­ide, while meth­ane gas es­cap­ing from thaw­ing per­mafrost is 20 times more danger­ous to the at­mos­phere than CO2.

Rus­sia Ten­sions

There are un­der­ly­ing ten­sions though, as Rus­sia, un­der global sanc­tions due to its role in the con­flict in Ukraine, be­gins to flex its mus­cles in the re­gion.

Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov did not at­tend the meet­ing, with Moscow send­ing En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Sergei Don­skoi in­stead.

Lavrov’s ab­sence was re­gret­ted by Stick­man, who said the Arc­tic should be shielded from in­ter­na­tional ten­sions.

“No mat­ter what is hap­pen­ing in the out­side world, co­op­er­a­tion in the Arc­tic is mov­ing for­ward,” Don­skoi in­sisted.

“There is no room here for con­fronta­tion or fear- mon­ger­ing,” he said, adding Rus­sia was “against politi­ciz­ing the Arc­tic.”

Although Canadian En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Leona Aglukkaq said she had pri­vately voiced anger at Rus­sia’s role in Ukraine, she sought to down­play any fall­out for the work of the coun­cil, say­ing it was done through con­sen­sus.

But Kerry again took is­sue with Moscow’s ac­tions in eastern Ukraine, point­ing the fin­ger at Rus­sia in say­ing that “it is clear at this point in time” that the Minsk cease­fire deal “has not been lived up to suf­fi­ciently.”

Ac­cord­ing to a 2008 study by the U. S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey, the Arc­tic may hold 13 per­cent of the planet’s undis­cov­ered oil and 30 per­cent of the world’s nat­u­ral gas.

While tack­ling cli­mate change will be high on the U. S. agenda as chair of the Arc­tic Coun­cil, Wash­ing­ton also hopes to im­prove ocean stew­ard­ship, mar­itime safety and the lives of the Arc­tic’s 4 mil­lion in­hab­i­tants.

The melt­ing ice also cre­ates shorter ship­ping routes be­tween the Pa­cific and the At­lantic — con­nect­ing mar­kets in Europe and Asia, with the num­bers of ships cross­ing the Ber­ing Strait on the rise.

Na­tions are also gear­ing up for ma­jor U. N. talks in Paris in De­cem­ber to agree a new in­ter­na­tional pact peg­ging global warm­ing to 2 de­grees Cel­sius over pre- industrial lev­els.


United States Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry, cen­ter, and Leona Aglukkaq, Canadian Min­is­ter for the Arc­tic Coun­cil, right, chat with a tra­di­tional Inuit drum­mer while at­tend­ing the Arc­tic Coun­cil Min­is­te­rial meet­ing in Iqaluit, Nu­navut, on Fri­day, April 24.

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