Washington, D.C. — Today, the Center for American Progress advocated in a new report that Secretary of State John Kerry has a prime opportunity to establish climate change as the unifying theme for the Arctic Council when the United States takes over leadership from Canada in 2015. Such an agenda would open up opportunities to make real progress toward ambitious but achievable goals to reduce climate change risks regionally and globally. It would both build on and expand the current agenda that focuses on resource development, shipping, and sustainable communities.
Climate change is warming the Arctic two times faster than any other region on the planet, and ice-free summers are anticipated in the coming decades, paving the way for increased resource extraction and more accessible shipping routes.
“Nowhere on earth are the high risks and crushing costs of climate change more evident than in the Arctic,” said Cathleen Kelly, Senior Fellow at CAP. “Rushing to exploit commercial opportunities in a rapidly changing region without a plan to prevent catastrophic regional and global consequences is like building a city on a field of quicksand.”
From disappearing glaciers that increase sea-level rise and endanger coastal cities around the world to the heightened risks associated with managing an oil spill in the region, the range of consequences from a melting Arctic are far reaching.
“The Arctic Ocean is perhaps the last truly pristine place on Earth, and we are already seeing a gold rush mentality to exploit the region’s reserves,” said Michael Conathan, Director of Ocean Policy at CAP. “With the United States poised to assume the chair of the Arctic Council in 2015, we will have a prime platform to ensure we have science-based understanding of the implications of further development in the Arctic and our planet’s changing climate.”
Five nations border the Arctic Ocean—the United States, Canada, Norway, Russia, and Denmark via its dominion over Greenland—and address the emerging challenges of the region through the Arctic Council.
“The United States needs to build international trust and cooperation in the Arctic now,” said Vikram Singh, Vice President for National Security and International Policy at CAP. “This will require engagement and investment in our Arctic infrastructure and capabilities—including ice breakers—to improve our understanding of change in the Arctic and prepare for contingencies from oil spills to accidents to conflict.”
In order for the United States to continue to build momentum and urgency on climate change, the report recommends three categories for action in both international and domestic policy:
1. Establish climate change as the overarching theme of Secretary Kerry’s chairmanship term. Reduce Arctic warming by centering the 2015–2017 Arctic Council agenda on the effects of global climate change and the efforts to combat it.
2. Reduce climate change and build resilience in the Arctic region. The following attainable goals focus on reducing Arctic warming and strengthening community resilience in the region. Meeting these goals should be a top priority for Secretary Kerry during his chairmanship.
Reduce black carbon emissions in and beyond the Arctic region.
Reduce methane emissions in and beyond the Arctic region.
Expand Arctic communities’ access to energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Strengthen Arctic communities’ resilience.
Expand Arctic climate change research and information sharing.
Ensure safe and clean Arctic transportation.
Expand the commercial fishing moratorium to all Arctic Council nations and collaborate on fisheries research.
Establish protected areas in the Arctic and conserve the region’s unique and climate-sensitive wildlife.
3. Take domestic actions to support Arctic leadership. The following unilateral steps will both help the United States drive an ambitious Arctic Council agenda centered on climate change and prepare the United States to better manage Arctic challenges going forward.
Freeze U.S. oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean.
Connect the U.S. public to the Arctic people and the value of a healthy climate and marine and coastal environments in the region.