The Arctic 2015 -17

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Arctic Deeply
The icebreaker gap
Russia has 40 powerful ships to clear lanes through crucial Arctic waters.
America is down to 2

Scott Gilmore: The Canadian North is the least defended territory on earth
Never mind the Amazon, or even the Antarctic. Northern Canada is the global epitome of undefended territory.
(Maclean’s) … perhaps it is fitting that the Canadian North is essentially the largest military-free zone in the world. To be fair, it is not utterly bereft of Canadian Forces. We have three very small bases. There are some radar installations (that use 1980s technology). There are the Rangers, of course, local volunteers who are given Second World War rifles, a hoodie, a ball cap and an annual photo op with whichever politician is shameless enough to fly north for 24 hours to emote about the Canadian North from the depths of his or her $1,200 Canada Goose parka. Our largest icebreaker— built in 1969—is currently undergoing it’s seventh refit. And, we have approximately 120 armed forces personnel, just enough to fill a Tim Hortons. All of this, of course, is spread over an area the size of Europe (except the icebreaker—it’s in Halifax). (17 March 2017)

Finland voices concern over US and Russian climate change doubters
“What is even more worrying is that ice and snow are melting faster than we estimated, and that will change the composition of the waters and even the sea level might be rising. If we have two countries, Russia and the US, not sharing the view that climate change is happening or is manmade or how much it is manmade, it is very difficult to proceed.”
(The Guardian) The Nordic country takes up the two-year chairmanship of the body, increasingly a forum where arguments about climate change play out, at a ministerial meeting on Thursday in Fairbanks, Alaska, where the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, will represent the Trump administration.
The meeting is due to set targets to reduce black carbon in the Arctic, a pollutant that traps atmospheric heat, but comes amid fears the US is poised to downgrade its commitments made at the 2015 Paris conference on climate change.

8 May
What to expect from Finland’s Arctic Council leadership
Technology, education and weather forecasting in the Arctic region are priorities for the Nordic nation as it assumes the council’s chairmanship this week, says Heather Exner-Pirot, the managing editor of the Arctic Yearbook.
(Open Canada) The chairmanship of the Arctic Council will be passed from the United States to Finland when representatives of northern nations meet in Fairbanks, Alaska, later this week.
The shift back to a European nation is expected to come with a change in priorities, said Heather Exner-Pirot, the managing editor of the Arctic Yearbook, an annually published academic journal that most recently made the Arctic Council its focus. She expects Finland will want to leverage its famed education system and use its technological prowess to connect Arctic communities, as well as work toward better monitoring of the region’s weather and continue to pursue the council’s environmental initiatives. Arctic Deeply’s Ian Evans spoke with Exner-Pirot to learn more about what this change in leadership may entail.

24 April
Literature’s Arctic Obsession
The greatest writers of the nineteenth century were drawn to the North Pole. What did they hope to find there?
(The New Yorker) For the once enormous icescape ringing the North Pole, the results have been dramatic. Since 1980, sea ice in the Arctic has declined thirteen per cent each decade. The Greenland Ice Sheet, which is more than a hundred and ten thousand years old and covers six hundred and sixty thousand square miles of the Far North, has shed two hundred billion tons of water a year since 2003. These changes have already made travel in the region notably easier; in 2007, for the first time in history, a ship navigated through the Northwest Passage without help from an icebreaker. Such travel will only get easier in the future. According to the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, by the end of our own century the summertime Arctic will be entirely ice-free. …
As for the North Pole itself: Frederick Cook claimed to have reached it by sled in 1908, Robert Peary in 1909, Richard Byrd by airplane in 1926. Of all the fictions told about the Arctic, these are among the least plausible. To reach the Pole in the time Peary said he had done so, he would have had to average thirty-eight miles a day, or more than three times faster than the highest proven average ever achieved—and that was by snowmobile. Cook would have needed to average a faintly less unreasonable seventeen miles a day, but the rest of the evidence against him is damning. He had already lied about reaching the summit of Alaska’s Mt. Denali, he failed to record celestial navigations for eighty-eight days of his trip, and he later paid someone to fake the missing data. Byrd’s airplane could not have covered the mileage he claimed in the time allotted, and both he and his pilot later privately confessed to the fraud. The first person to actually reach the North Pole over land was Ralph Plaisted, an insurance agent from Duluth, who arrived on April 20, 1968. Fifteen months later, Apollo 11 landed on the moon. …
For the once enormous icescape ringing the North Pole, the results have been dramatic. Since 1980, sea ice in the Arctic has declined thirteen per cent each decade. The Greenland Ice Sheet, which is more than a hundred and ten thousand years old and covers six hundred and sixty thousand square miles of the Far North, has shed two hundred billion tons of water a year since 2003. These changes have already made travel in the region notably easier; in 2007, for the first time in history, a ship navigated through the Northwest Passage without help from an icebreaker. Such travel will only get easier in the future. According to the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, by the end of our own century the summertime Arctic will be entirely ice-free.
From time to time during the life of our planet, roughly once every half-million years, a curious thing occurs: its geomagnetic field reverses, such that the North Pole and the South Pole swap polarities. Lately, our stories about the poles have done the same. The nineteenth century dreamed of an Arctic that was warm, accessible, and domesticated, but found a remote and frozen region indifferent to human life. Now, in the twenty-first century, as we approach an ice-free, accessible pole that has succumbed to our influence, we dream of a faraway frozen land unspoiled by humankind. ♦

17 March
Trump’s budget could cause infrastructure crisis for rural and native Alaskans
(Eye on the Arctic) As a state with one of the highest proportions of rural residents, Alaska would be particularly negatively impacted. Some 34% of Alaskans live outside the state’s cities. Alaska’s rural populations, too, are different than those in the Lower 48. While much of rural America voted for Trump, counties with large Alaska Native populations tended to vote for Clinton. (The same is true of rural, largely Native American counties in the Lower 48).
… it’s hard to imagine Trump taking a tour of Alaska to witness climate change first-hand and visit Alaska Native settlements. Obama’s visit to Kotzebue made him the first sitting president to visit the American Arctic. In contrast, Trump proposes to eliminate the very agency that Obama tapped to lead the process of climate change mitigation in coastal communities in Alaska, including determining which ones should be relocated.

2016

20 December
Obama bans oil drilling ‘permanently’ in millions of acres of ocean
(BBC) Outgoing US President Barack Obama has permanently banned offshore oil and gas drilling in the “vast majority” of US-owned northern waters.
Mr Obama designated areas in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans as “indefinitely off limits” to future leasing.
The move is widely seen as an attempt to protect the region before Mr Obama leaves office in January.
Supporters of president-elect Donald Trump could find it difficult to reverse the decision.
Canada also committed to a similar measure in its own Arctic waters, in a joint announcement with Washington.
During the election campaign, Donald Trump said he would take advantage of existing US oil reserves, prompting concern from environmental groups.
But supporters have already suggested that any attempt to reverse the “permanent” decision outlined by the law would be open to a legal challenge.
17 March
Two powerful new allies join WWF for a thriving Arctic
By David Miller, President and CEO of World Wildlife Fund
(Policy Options) Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Barack Obama unveiled groundbreaking agreements on how they want to see the Arctic sustainably managed.
The Arctic is 40 per cent of Canada’s landmass, two-thirds of our coastline and a large part of our national identity. But it’s not ours alone. We share it with the United States and six other nations, so it’s vital that our efforts to balance environmental sustainability with community benefits be shared too.
That’s what makes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent visit to Washington so important to the Arctic, and to our work at WWF-Canada
Turning the Lens on Arctic Shipping’s New Era
(Arctic Deeply) Shipping in Arctic waters is expected to rise as sea ice thins and melts, particularly along Russia’s Northern Sea Route. Bernice Notenboom’s new film Sea Blind looks at the risks and environmental costs involved in Arctic shipping – and plots a path towards a more sustainable industry.
Melting Arctic sea ice creates the possibility of more shipping in the Arctic, especially along the Northern Sea Route, a shipping lane that extends from the Kara Sea to the Pacific Ocean, running along the Russian coast. In Sea Blind, Notenboom reports from Russia and Rotterdam in an attempt to understand what she sees as a “race to exploit the economic opportunities” of the receding ice – and its environmental impacts.
The film, which debuted in Paris in December at the COP21 climate change meeting, offers a deep dive into our reliance on the shipping industry, its environmental impact and how it is regulated. But the film goes beyond spotlighting problems, it also looks for – and finds – ways to clean up shipping so that it impacts less on the planet, the Arctic in particular.
15 January
No One Wants a New Cold War in the Arctic
(Arctic Deeply) Glance at the headlines and one could easily come to believe that an assertive Russia is squaring off against the West in a “race” or “scramble” for the Arctic, in a “new cold war.” The perceived threat from Russia in the Arctic even underscores calls for the construction of additional U.S. icebreakers.
This storyline is merely the taproot of a larger media-driven narrative about the global “scramble for the Arctic,” which brushes aside the overwhelming evidence of peaceful cooperation among Arctic states, in favor of alarming and attention-grabbing headlines. The facts on the ground suggest strongly that Arctic states, including the U.S. and Russia, collectively seek more cooperation and the peaceful resolution of territorial disputes as increasing human activity and climate change interact in complex and challenging ways.
Nevertheless, the current difficulties in Russia’s relationships with much of Europe and North America cannot simply be brushed aside. Diplomats like to talk of preserving the Arctic as a zone of peace, a walled-off garden in which outside political problems do not intrude, but this is an overly simple conception.

2015

Arctic Report Card 2015 ; video
Every year since 2006, an international team of scientists track recent Arctic environmental changes and issue a report. What’s new for 2015? Maximum sea ice extent was 15 days earlier than average and hit the lowest value on record, and sea ice continues to be younger and thinner. These changes to sea ice are having impacts on the marine ecosystem, including fishes and walruses, and on sea surface temperatures. Tracking recent environmental changes, with 12 essays prepared by an international team of 72 scientists from 11 different countries and an independent peer-review organized by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme of the Arctic Council.

James F. Collins: Diplomacy at the Top of the World
(Project Syndicate) Geopolitical tensions between Russia and the West have been high in recent years, but there remain areas where constructive cooperation and dialogue remain possible. These include not only acute questions like Iran’s nuclear program, but also long-term issues critical to the Arctic region, such as maritime safety, energy development, responses to oil spills, and fisheries management.
As the United States convenes foreign ministers from Arctic and key non-Arctic states in Alaska on August 31 to discuss climate change and other topics concerning the region, it is vitally important that disagreements in other parts of the world not be allowed to derail the discussions.
When the US – an Arctic state with a strong interest in the region – assumed the chairmanship of the Arctic Council in April, it emphasized its readiness to cooperate with all of the organization’s members, including Russia. The August conference, appropriately named GLACIER, will feature an address by President Barack Obama. It is not an Arctic Council event, but it will likely be the highest-level international forum that the US leads during its two-year term as the Council’s chair.

28 September
Shell ended its Alaskan oil exploration. The Dutch oil major will take a $4.1 billion writedown after it failed to find enough oil to continue investigating the Burger J well. An “unpredictable” regulatory environment concerning drilling in the Arctic, as well as the low price of oil, also contributed to the decision to end its exploration (paywall).
1 September
Obama walking a razor’s edge in Alaska on climate change
(Brookings) As President Obama wraps up his historic visit to Alaska and meeting with the Arctic climate resilience summit (GLACIER Conference), he is walking a razor’s edge, delivering a delicately crafted missive for two audiences. Each view is coherent by itself, but together they create a contradictory message that reflects the cognitive dissonance of this administration on climate change.
For the majority of Alaska and for businesses and more conservative audiences, Obama is proclaiming that Alaskan resources are part of our energy future. With oil providing 90 percent of state government revenues, that’s the message many Alaskans most ardently want to hear.
For environmentalists and to the nations of the world, Obama is making another argument. His stops were chosen to provide compelling visual evidence now written across Alaska’s landscape that climate change is real, it is here, Alaskans are already suffering, and we must act aggressively to address it. “Climate change is no longer some far-off problem; it is happening here, it is happening now … We’re not acting fast enough.”
Remarks by the President at the GLACIER Conference
“The United States is, of course, an Arctic nation. And even if this isn’t an official gathering of the Arctic Council, the United States is proud to chair the Arctic Council for the next two years. And to all the foreign dignitaries who are here, I want to be very clear — we are eager to work with your nations on the unique opportunities that the Arctic presents and the unique challenges that it faces. We are not going to — any of us — be able to solve these challenges by ourselves. We can only solve them together.” President Obama delivers remarks at the GLACIER Conference in Alaska. (video)
Senator John McCain: The Real Arctic Threat
Obama focuses on global warming while Putin’s neo-imperialist dreams continue to spread north.
(WSJ) President Obama is on a three-day visit to Alaska that will include a stop north of the Arctic Circle. The focus of his trip is climate change. Some of my Senate colleagues and I recently returned from the Arctic, and while we saw the challenges of melting polar ice, we also saw a greater and more immediate threat. It is a menace that many assumed was relegated to the past: an aggressive, militarily capable Russian state that is ruled by an anti-American autocrat, hostile to our interests, dismissive of our values, and seeking to challenge the international order that U.S. leaders of both parties have maintained for seven decades.
Obama seeks to close icebreaker gap as Arctic sea traffic competition intensifies
President to speed up acquisition by two years of new heavy icebreaker
Barack Obama will propose on Tuesday accelerating the timeline for purchasing and building new icebreakers for the US coast guard in the Arctic Ocean, as part of an effort to close an increasing gap with other countries – particularly Russia.
The White House issued the announcement late on Monday, stating that Obama will call for speeding up by two years – to 2020 from 2022 – the acquisition of a replacement heavy icebreaker. The president will also call on Congress to pass sufficient funding for the construction of additional icebreakers, which the administration said would “ensure that the United States can meet our national interests, protect and manage our natural resources, and strengthen our international, state, local, and tribal relationships
The icebreaker gap
Russia has 40 powerful ships to clear lanes through crucial Arctic waters. America is down to 2.
(Politico) But even if funding to build new icebreakers came tomorrow, it would still take too long to build one ship, analysts say. Current law requires Coast Guard vessels to be constructed in U.S. shipyards unless the President determines there’s an overriding national-security interest to build a ship outside of the U.S.
Lockheed Shipbuilding of Seattle, Washington, which built the Polar Star and the Polar Sea, is closed. So is Avondale Industries outside of New Orleans, which built the Healy. One privately owned icebreaker, leased to Shell, was built by a pair of domestic shipbuilders. “But the domestic industry is kind of thin,” Uljua said. He estimated that building a new vessel stateside would take at least 10 years, and crafting a design alone could take several years. Another option would be leasing a ship, though according to Uljua, there are no heavy icebreakers available to lease; one would have to be built.
31 August
Obama using Alaska to add urgency to his climate change warnings
(WaPost) As stage sets go, Alaska is a spectacular one: craggy mountain ranges, picturesque coastlines and iconic glaciers. President Obama arrived here Monday to use that backdrop for his message that climate change is not just a thing of the future but something well underway in the nation’s largest state.
“The point is that climate change is no longer some far-off problem,” Obama told an international meeting on Arctic issues Monday night. “It is happening here and is happening now.”
But despite the geological props — what the president called “the God-given majesty of this place” — Alaska may not be the perfect setting for Obama’s message. The state also perfectly reflects the cacophony of disputes over rival claims to international sea borders, how best to tap the Arctic’s resources and how to handle growing traffic along northern shipping routes. Those huge financial and economic stakes complicate the president’s arguments about the urgency of combating climate change.
Obama’s Trip to Alaska Shows Both Sides of His Climate Change Legacy
(TIME) President Barack Obama brought his crusade against climate change to Alaska this week with a three-day trip designed to highlight the devastating effects of global warming and promote initiatives to address the issue. …
While Obama has billed his trip as an opportunity to highlight the threat of climate change—and the steps his Administration is taking to fight it—his policies embody the tension between the vital fossil fuels play in the U.S. economy and the need to reduce carbon emissions. Obama has proposed aggressive U.S. action on climate change, including a 26% to 28% reduction in carbon emissions by 2025 from 2005 levels. But he has also supported measures to open oil drilling in the Arctic, a move condemned by environmentalists angered over the danger of an disastrous oil spill and the threat of more carbon emissions
30 August
Nature’s last refuge: climate change threatens our most fragile ecosystem
An Arctic voyage through the awe-inspiring Northwest Passage shows that, with oil drilling in the far north on the way, rapid action is needed to protect the region
(The Guardian) … the Arctic today is changing. Global warming is altering it at a rate that is unmatched anywhere else on Earth, and a journey once considered grotesquely dangerous has become a voyage now feasible for the inquiring traveller. … there is another factor that made this journey possible, one that reveals the darker side of humanity’s scientific might and which provides the most intriguing aspect of any Arctic visit. Every year our factories and cars pump billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and emissions continue to rise remorselessly. As a result, our planet is heating at a worrying rate, with the Arctic bearing the brunt of temperature rises.
Every year the melting of sea ice in the far north starts earlier and earlier and it is now vanishing at a rate of about 13% per decade. As a result, the Arctic’s sea ice cap has shrunk by nearly a third since 1979, according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre. Finding enough ice in which to get trapped is becoming the Arctic’s real problem.
29 August
U.S. Is Playing Catch-Up With Russia in Scramble for the Arctic
(NYT) With warming seas creating new opportunities at the top of the world, nations are scrambling over the Arctic — its territorial waters, transit routes and especially its natural resources — in a rivalry some already call a new Cold War.
When President Obama travels to Alaska on Monday, becoming the first president to venture above the Arctic Circle while in office, he hopes to focus attention on the effects of climate change on the Arctic. Some lawmakers in Congress, analysts, and even some government officials say the United States is lagging behind other nations, chief among them Russia, in preparing for the new environmental, economic and geopolitical realities facing the region.
“We have been for some time clamoring about our nation’s lack of capacity to sustain any meaningful presence in the Arctic,” said Adm. Paul F. Zukunft, the Coast Guard’s commandant.
Obama defends Arctic drilling decision on eve of Alaska climate change trip
President accused of undermining own agenda with decision to allow hunt for oil in Arctic, as he prepares for three-day tour to showcase effects of climate change
A defensive White House was forced to push back against campaigners who accuse Obama of undermining his environmental agenda by giving the go-ahead to Shell to drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea, only weeks after rolling out his signature climate change plan.
Obama, in his weekly address on Saturday, insisted there was no clash between his climate change agenda and Arctic drilling.
America was beginning to get off fossil fuels, he said. But Obama went on: “Our economy still has to rely on oil and gas. As long as that’s the case, I believe we should rely more on domestic production than on foreign imports.”
The challenges of protecting the Arctic from climate change as well as the risks of offshore drilling were both on full display on the eve of Obama’s visit.
25 April
U.S. to make climate change a priority for Arctic Council
(Globe & Mail) Coping with the grave and growing consequences of climate change will be the top priority at the Arctic Council as the chairmanship passes to to the United States from Canada, U.S. State Secretary John Kerry told the eight nation ministerial gathering in Iqaluit on Friday.
“The numbers are alarming and that’s putting it mildly,” warned Mr. Kerry, who has a long and proven track record in regarding climate change as among the foremost of 21st century threats. The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on earth, he said.
Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who chaired the Arctic Council for the last two years, said “Canada’s deep commitment to the north and its people is part of our national identity” and listed among Canada’s achievements the creation of an Arctic Economic Council, a group of northern businesses.
The U.S. will shift priorities.
“This is not a future challenge, this is happening right now,” Mr. Kerry said as he outlined the rapid retreat of Arctic ice cover, the collapse of permafrost with resulting massive releases of the potent greenhouse gas methane as well as dire coastal erosion and the acidification of the Arctic Ocean.
24 April
Arctic Council renews commitment to Arctic economic and social development and environmental protection
Ministers from eight Arctic states and leaders of Arctic Indigenous Peoples met today in Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada, marking the conclusion of Canada’s Arctic Council Chairmanship and the beginning of the United States’ Chairmanship.
At the meeting, Ministers signed the Iqaluit Declaration 2015, which highlights the accomplishments of the Arctic Council during Canada’s Chairmanship (2013-2015) and guides the work of the Council under the Chairmanship of the United States (2015-2017).
“It is with great pride that we signed the Iqaluit Declaration here in Canada’s North,” said the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, Canada’s Minister and Chair for the Arctic Council. “Canada has put Northerners at the forefront of the Arctic Council’s agenda, and we will continue working to ensure that the Council’s work benefits the people who live there.”
The theme of Canada’s Chairmanship was “Development for the People of the North”, and during its Chairmanship the Council advanced economic and social development and environmental protection in the Arctic, implementing action-oriented projects and programs on issues such as mental wellness, traditional knowledge and oil pollution prevention to improve the lives of Arctic residents.
23 April
U.S. chairmanship of the Arctic Council: The challenges ahead
(Brookings) This weekend the United States will assume the chairmanship of the Arctic Council for a two-year term. While the Obama administration has been preparing for this for several years, it remains to be seen how the president will balance the concerns of most Arctic residents who view development of the region as vital to improving their economic and social livelihood and those individuals inside and outside the administration who want to limit development out of concern for the how economic development may cause local environmental degradation while also accelerating climate change.
As part of this preparation, in May 2013, the president launched a new National Strategy for the Arctic Region based on three principles
11 February
The Road to the U.S. Arctic Council Chairmanship
By Heather Exner-Pirot
(World Policy blog) The United States will assume the chairmanship of the Arctic Council this coming April for a two-year term. In the run-up to this transition, the Obama Administration has been making significant efforts to beef up its Arctic policies and objectives. It launched a new National Strategy for the Arctic Region in May 2013 and appointed former Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, Admiral Robert Papp, as the U.S. Special Representative for the Arctic in July 2014. It also issued an Executive Order to enhance coordination of national efforts in the Arctic in January 2015, and controversially proposed new wilderness protections in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) that will impact oil and gas production in the state of Alaska. In cataloging the nation’s interests in the Arctic region and articulating the common goals it shares with the other states and indigenous Permanent Participants that make up the Arctic Council, Admiral Papp has proffered the following agenda for its chairmanship:
— Arctic Ocean safety, security and stewardship
— Improving economic and living conditions
— Addressing the impacts of climate change

Arctic Meltdown Opens Fabled Northwest Passage (September 2007)

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