Washington, D.C. – Today, after Secretary of State John Kerry called climate change in the Arctic “one of the most obvious shared challenges facing the planet today,” the Center for American Progress released an analysis detailing why the United States needs to take the lead on reining in climate change in the Arctic and globally and addressing the environmental, economic, and national security implications of warming in the High North.
Secretary Kerry has an immediate opportunity to implement his new climate change Policy Guidance as he begins setting priorities now for his upcoming leadership position as the 2015–2017 Arctic Council Chair. In this role, he can drive an ambitious agenda focused on putting the brakes on climate change by cutting black carbon and methane emissions and promoting renewable energy use. As part of this agenda, Secretary Kerry should seek to conserve invaluable Arctic marine and coastal environments and promote sustainable Arctic development that will boost the resilience and prosperity of Arctic communities.
“Focusing on new commercial opportunities in a melting Arctic without recognizing the catastrophic consequences of Arctic warming is akin to refinancing your home as it burns to the ground,” said Cathleen Kelly, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. “As the driving force behind the growing commercial interests and environmental and safety threats in the region, and escalating damages and costs of floods, droughts, heat waves, and other extreme weather events around the globe, climate change must be at the center of the U.S. Arctic Council agenda when Secretary Kerry becomes the Chairman in 2015.”
As the Arctic becomes more accessible and competition for resources and territory accelerates, the risk of oil spills and other catastrophic accidents, territorial disputes, and security challenges will rise. American capabilities to deal with these challenges lag far behind those of other Arctic nations.
To ensure peace and safety in the region, Secretary Kerry must work closely with President Barack Obama, U.S. Department of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and other agencies to build on the 2013 White House National Strategy for the Arctic Region and the Department of Defense 2013 Arctic Strategy. Improving our understanding of the local and global effects of a warming Arctic must be among their top priorities.
Together, these leaders must also develop a plan and secure the resources to expand America’s oil-spill and other disaster-response capabilities in the Arctic, including our icebreaker fleet, navigation and communication satellites, ports, and other infrastructure needed to support emergency preparedness and response.
Nowhere are the impacts of climate change more evident and staggering than in the Arctic. The region—which encompasses 17 percent of the globe and is almost one and a half times the size of the United States—is warming two times faster than any other region on Earth. Furthermore, Arctic sea ice has shrunk by 75 percent since the 1980s, according to a recent analysis, with ice-free summers in the Arctic Ocean “very likely” by midcentury.
These and other effects of a warming Arctic not only directly threaten the health, safety, and prosperity of the 4 million people who live in the High North—but they also have tremendous economic, environmental, and security implications for the United States and the rest of the world.