Thursday, February 26, 2015

US releases ‘One Arctic’ theme as it readies to take chair

DJ Summer

The Arctic Council wants to make sure citizens and politicians start looking northward as trade routes, natural resource development and national security issues emerge.

The United States will enter into the chair position of the Arctic Council in April 2015, taking over for Canada, which held the position since 2013. The chair position is held for two years before being taken by another of the eight member countries.

The U.S. is a member thanks to Alaska, along with the Russian Federation, Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark (including the Faroe Islands and Greenland), Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. The politicians working on the council, many of whom are Alaskans, say they plan to use the country’s position to bring more public, private, and political attention to an Arctic that’s rapidly becoming a focal point for everything from environmental concerns to international trade.

The council is an international study group of the eight countries that touch the Arctic Circle, founded by the Ottawa Declaration of 1996 to provide a means for its members to work on mutual Arctic-centric issues.

It makes no grants and builds no projects, focusing its efforts mostly on information gathering, sharing, and disseminating, both through collaborations among government bodies and working relationships with private advocacy groups, academic organizations, or any other organization who wants to contribute to Arctic study.

Alaska organizations like the Aleutians International Association partner with the council to work on projects involving climate change, ocean acidification, geophysical mapping, search and rescue, renewable energy studies, and social concerns like suicide prevention for rural Alaska communities.

The U.S. will serve as council chair under the administration of Secretary of State John Kerry, who will host a yearly summit of Arctic nations and maintain diplomacy but cede operations to the senior Arctic official, Julia Gourley.

Senior Arctic officials representing each member nation meet on regular basis to manage the council’s operations under an Arctic senior official chair held by the Arctic Council chair nation, in this case the U.S.

The U.S. Arctic senior official chair position has not been officially announced, but the name most frequently brought up as hopeful is David Balton. Balton has served since 2009 as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Fisheries, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs within the U.S. Department of State.

Under the senior official body are several task forces, each concerned with marine oil pollution prevention, circumpolar business development, scientific cooperation, and black carbon and methane study.

Former Alaska Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer will inform Kerry as a special adviser on Arctic science and policy. The last time the U.S. chaired the council was from 1998-2000, at which time then-Lt. Gov. Ulmer served as the state representative to interact with the council. Ulmer, who currently serves as chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, said the U.S. has chosen a message of cooperation and stewardship as its mission statement.

“The U.S. has chosen for its broad theme for the chairmanship, ‘One Arctic, shared opportunities, challenges, and responsibilities,’” said Ulmer at an Arctic Council presentation at the Dena’ina Center on Feb. 11. “And under all three of those there’s a lot that we can talk about.”

Under the “One Arctic” mission statement, Ulmer says the U.S. has three focus points for the next two years: security and stewardship of the Arctic Ocean, climate change and improving the economic conditions of Arctic peoples.

Specific projects within that scope are being planned, Ulmer says, but the council process operates under a consensus rule, and any plans or proposals must have the majority support of Arctic nations before implementation.

The council will focus on getting the attention of citizens and lawmakers who otherwise might not have a reason to pay attention to the region.

“We’re trying to make brochures that tease out some info to get people interested,” Ulmer said. “We’re trying to explain to the Lower 48 and the rest of the world how important this place is and that we should treat it with respect. We need infrastructure that’s capable of responding. How do we get that? By getting those people and people in the U.S. congress to say ‘yes.’”

Craig Fleener has been appointed by Gov. Bill Walker as special Arctic advisor. Fleener echoes Fulmer’s call for greater attention to Arctic issues, especially for Alaskans.

“If it wasn’t for Alaska, the U.S. wouldn’t be an Arctic nation,” Fleener said. “We cannot treat this as a two-year slice of time. This will continue to be our home when Finland or Russia takes the chair.”

Fleener says that the state’s focus in its involvement with the Arctic Council will be on bolstering “community sustainability.” Emphasizing proper fish and game management and finding solutions for energy cost reduction, he says, are key to state survival, and developing regional and academic partnerships will be instrumental in furthering those goals.

Admiral Bob Papp was appointed in 2014 to serve as special representative to the Arctic. In this role, Papp serves as a kind of ambassador between Arctic nations beyond just the scope of the council.

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