U.S.-led Arctic Council to stress Arctic Ocean, climate change
“We want to put the Arctic Council on steroids” — U.S. Arctic representative
With its chairmanship of the eight-nation Arctic Council due next year, the United States wants to put the council “on steroids,” the U.S. special representative for the Arctic, retired Coast Guard Admiral Robert Papp, said Oct 31.
To that end, the U.S. will emphasize Arctic Ocean stewardship and governance, climate change and continuation of the Canadian chairmanship’s economic initiatives.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry appointed Papp to the special representative position this past July. He spoke this past Friday, Oct. 31, at the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik, and later that day held a Google Hangouts video press conference at the U.S. embassy in Iceland.
“As in any organization, there is a time when it matures and the time is right. I think what we would like to do is make it a stronger more vibrant organization that really takes hold of some of the challenges,” Papp told reporters.
Canada’s chairmanship of the Arctic Council, led by Nunavut MP and Arctic ambassador Leona Aglukkaq, ends after an Arctic Council ministerial meeting in Iqaluit scheduled April 24 and April 25, 2015.
And that transfer of Arctic Council leadership from Canada to the U.S. will bring with it a new theme and new priorities.
Canada’s overarching theme, “Development for the People of the North,” put the recently created Arctic Economic Council at the centre of its chairmanship. Canada also pushed for an agreement on limiting black carbon emissions and a circumpolar study on suicide.
But for the U.S., the overarching theme, still under discussion, will be “One Arctic, With Shared Opportunities, Challenges, Responsibilities,” Papp said in an Oct. 31 speech in Reykjavik.
And the first U.S. priority is stewardship and governance of the Arctic Ocean, Papp said.
“I’ve long believed one of the things you do in terms of prosperity of your people and their safety and security is you make sure you provide safe and secure approaches to your shores and environmentally sound practices,” said Papp, who served in the U.S. Coast Guard for 39 years.
The second U.S. priority is climate change: mitigating it and adapting to it.
“If climate change were not occurring, we would not be having these discussions ... Climate change is central to all that we do. And we have to come up with ways to adapt to the changes that are occurring in the North for our people,” he said.
Third, the U.S. chairmanship will continue the work on economic issues that Aglukkaq pushed for within the Canadian chairmanship.
“As I have seen in my visits to Alaska, there is clearly a need for economic development for jobs: opportunities to keep young people in their villages rather than having to leave their families and go off to other areas. Canada did just a marvelous job in pushing these initiatives. We plan to carry that forward,” Papp said.
When Papp spoke, more than 1,400 people from nearly 40 countries had gathered in Reykjavik for the second annual Arctic Circle Assembly.
The brain-child of Iceland’s president, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, the gathering featured a long list of influential people with an interest in the circumpolar world, including numerous political leaders, business people and academics.
They included German chancellor Angela Merkel, Finnish president Sauli Niinistö, Vincent Rigby, Canada’s Arctic Council senior Arctic officials’ chair, and Quebec premier Philippe Couillard, who brought a large trade delegation.
Terry Audla, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and Okalik Eegeesiak, international chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, also attended.
Alice Rogoff, publisher of the Alaska Dispatch, which recently acquired the state’s largest daily, the Anchorage Daily News, chaired the forum, which this year gained the support of numerous corporate and charitable sponsors, including Google, the Guggenheim investment firm, the MacArthur Foundation, the Carnegie foundation, Foreign Affairs magazine and The Brookings Institution.
“The northern regions, which for centuries were isolated and remote, mostly unknown to the rest of the world, have now become a global theatre,” Grímsson said in his welcoming speech.
Grímsson declared Oct. 31 that the Arctic Circle Assembly has won enough support to become a permanent international forum for the discussion of Arctic issues and that more assemblies are now scheduled for 2015, 2016 and 2017.
This means Iceland, the Arctic Council’s smallest member state with a population of only about 330,000 people, has created a forum whose influence could rival that of the Arctic Council itself.
Grímsson said the Arctic Circle Assembly may be the “most comprehensive” Arctic forum ever created and that he sees Reykjavik being transformed into a “dynamic Arctic village” every October.
As for Papp, he insisted that the U.S. wants to build the influence of the Arctic Council.
“I think what we would like to do is make it [the Arctic Council] a stronger more vibrant organization that really takes hold of some of the challenges that we’re facing up there and start to come up with solutions,” he said.
To that end, he said that his consensus-building experience with the U.S. Coast Guard has given him the experience needed to build consensus among the council’s eight nation states.
“Everyone’s got an equal voice. The hard work is getting them all to consensus. I find that fascinating, a challenge and exciting,” Papp said.
That, he said, includes the indigenous peoples of the Arctic, who are represented on the Arctic Council by six permanent participant organizations.
“This is about people. Yes, it’s a vast region of the globe, but it’s more about people and their safety and security,” he said.