Addressing Climate Change Is Focal Point of Arctic Summit

Canada’s Minister Leona Aglukkaq signs a resolution as other government representatives look on. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is third from left.
Canada’s Minister Leona Aglukkaq signs a resolution as other government representatives look on. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is third from left.

By Charlene Porter
IIP Staff Writer
Washington,
May 15, 2013

The Arctic Council presides over one of the Earth’s coldest places, but the warming of the Arctic and the overall planetary trend of climate change were the dominant topics as the council met May 15 in Kiruna, Sweden.

Representing the United States, Secretary of State John Kerry said the “ominous” threat of climate change is a shared challenge for the world. He said courage will be required to face “the long list of challenges — acidification, pollution, ice melt, rising sea levels, disappearing species, and indiscriminate development practices.”

Kerry said each of those environmental issues produces consequences far outside the Arctic Circle “to each of our economies, to our national security and to international stability.”

At the same time, the council placed economic cooperation at “the top of our agenda” in Vision for the Arctic, a policy document adopted by the eight governments on the council. It also expresses shared concerns for the well-being of Arctic peoples and the development of sustainable Arctic economies to create vibrant, long-lived communities. Recognition of the fragility of the Arctic environment is always of “critical importance,” according to the vision statement.

The council also adopted the legally binding Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic, “which will substantially improve procedures for combating oil spills” in the polar region, according to a press release issued by the council secretariat, chaired by the Swedish hosts of the meeting.

Kerry described that agreement as “an important framework for cooperation in the event of an emergency.”

In other business, the council received a research document on Arctic biodiversity, the broadest study ever conducted on the wide range of life in the region with contributions from about 200 scientists worldwide.

The Swedish secretariat presented the council with another first-of-its-kind scientific report on the acidification of the Arctic Ocean. This environmental assessment examines the potential impact of acidification on marine ecosystems, northern communities and indigenous peoples whose lives and livelihoods are largely based on ecosystem products.

Acidity is increasing because the oceans absorb carbon dioxide that petroleum-based fuels release as they are burned to meet energy needs. The Arctic is particularly vulnerable because carbon dioxide is more readily absorbed into cold water.

“Temperatures, we know, in the Arctic are increasing more than twice as fast as global averages,” Kerry said, “and they are endangering habitats and they are endangering ways of life.”

Kerry was also forthright in expressing U.S. responsibility as one of the world’s greatest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. “We need to do more — all of us — urgently.”

Kerry said the United States is acting aggressively to reduce emissions, citing a number of examples: increasing energy efficiency in automobile manufacturing and building construction; promoting energy savings in government and consumer spending; and encouraging the expansion of green energy alternatives.

It is a little-known fact, he said, that the United States has already reduced its emissions in an amount greater than would have been required if the U.S. Senate had authorized enactment of the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement to reduce greenhouse gases enacted by many nations in 2005.

The Kiruna Declaration, adopted by the eight member states, recognizes the need for emissions reduction and for a global plan to limit the increases in global temperatures through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The declaration also asserts the council’s commitment to other multinational initiatives already in place to address climate change through reductions in short-lived pollutants such as methane and black soot, produced from a variety of sources.

The United States and five other nations launched the Climate and Clean Air Coalition in early 2012. The coalition expanded rapidly in its first year, growing to 30 government partners and about 60 nonstate partners such as the Environmental Defense Fund, the U.N. Development Programme, the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities.