'The Arctic is the Lynchpin': Vying for Control of the Icy North

October 13, 2020 0 By HearthstoneYarns

The U.S. will assume leadership of the international Arctic Council this week, as Russia and Canada flex their military muscles in the fossil fuel-rich polar region.

For environmentalists, by opening U.S. Arctic waters to oil drilling leases, the Obama Administration hasn’t instilled confidence in its stewardship of the complex and swiftly changing ecosystem. Still, when U.S. presents its agenda for its two-year chairmanship of the Council this week, some are hopeful that the U.S. term will focus on mitigating, researching, and preventing climate change as opposed to plundering the region’s natural resources.

“The United States is assuming the chairmanship of the Arctic Council at a critical time,” reads a Clean Air Task Force report, “The Last Climate Frontier” (pdf), issued Monday. “For climate change, the Arctic is the lynchpin—the future of the Arctic will determine the future of all coastal communities, from Miami to Norfolk to Shanghai. It is critical that the U.S. finds a way to leverage its Chairmanship to lead the Council into action.”

The Arctic Council consists of representatives from eight countries—Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States—plus permanent participants representing indigenous peoples.

In speeches and statements, U.S. Special Representative for the Arctic Admiral Robert Papp Jr. has indicated that climate change will be a theme of the U.S.’s tenure at the helm, Environment & Energy Publishing reported Monday:

In recent remarks, Papp has outlined an extensive list of potential U.S. actions on climate change at the Council, including efforts to control black carbon—a major contributor to global warming, produced by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels—and to reduce methane emissions, ban Arctic fishing, and build resilience in local communities.

It’s unclear how achievable any of these goals will be.

“The problem is, it’s really hard to provide really pragmatic policy deliverables with such an overarching theme,” Heather Conley, director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic & International Studies,” told Environment & Energy. “Climate change and the policies around climate change have different meanings to each of the eight Arctic members.”

Climate activists do agree on one measurable step the U.S. government could take to protect the Arctic: Stop Shell and other oil giants from drilling there.