Arctic SAR deal to top May 12 Arctic Council agenda
Pact spells out response to plane crashes, cruise ship disasters, oil spills
COPENHAGEN — Foreign ministers from Canada and the world’s other Arctic countries are expected to sign an internationally binding agreement on search and rescue in the Arctic during their meeting May 12 in Nuuk, Greenland.
It would be the Arctic Council’s first binding agreement, and would create a coordinated emergency response scheme for the Arctic ocean and airspace, and divide the Arctic into specific search and rescue areas, with each Arctic state being responsible for specific territory.
Other items on the agenda of the council include:
• the launch of a project on prevention and response to marine oil spills in the Arctic waters;
• the launch of a new “Arctic Change Assessment,” to be prepared for 2017, which will look at the impacts of climate change on Arctic residents, environment, oceans and animal life;
• the creation of a task force to look at how some kinds of pollution like soot influence the speed of climate change: and,
• the approval of proposal for structural changes within the Arctic Council, such as the creation of a permanent secretariat, expected to be located in Tromsø, Norway, and a plan on how to deal with the increasing number of requests from nations like China to join the body as observers.
During their one day meeting, ministers and permanent indigenous participants, including the Inuit Circumpolar Council, were to participate in a round table on “The Changing Arctic: Challenges for the Arctic Council.”
Following the May 2 defeat of Canada’s foreign affairs minister, Lawrence Cannon, Leona Aglukkaq, Nunavut’s MP and federal health minister, will represent Canada as its top at the table. Nunavut premier Eva Aariak will also be in Nuuk as part of the Canadian government delegation.
But some want to see the Arctic Council respond with action rather than more talk.
On May 6, 400 scientists at a meeting on Arctic climate change and pollution handed a statement to Lene Espersen, the Danish minister of foreign affairs and chair of the Arctic Council, asking her move climate change to the top of the council’s agenda.
But Espersen did not say what specific climate change actions to expect from the Arctic Council.
She only said only that the Arctic Council has a “strong determination to act when necessary.”
Arctic officials and scientists, attending last week’s conference on Arctic climate change and pollution, told Nunatsiaq News that they want the Arctic Council to start work towards an internationally-binding deal on reducing climate change.
This deal among the Arctic Council’s eight member nations would pave the way for similar smaller regional deals around the world.
They say that’s the best way to do something about climate change regionally, since the last attempt to reach a new global deal failed in 2009.
At the May 12 meeting, Denmark will pass the chair of the Arctic Council to Sweden.
Sweden’s environment minister Andreas Calgren has said Sweden plans to hold another high-level conference in 2012 to discuss Arctic issues, including climate change.
In Nuuk, Canada and Greenland were also expected to announce a new $200- million scientific partnership on global climate change.
If the Arctic Council doesn’t take a strong position on limiting the emissions, which are heating and polluting the Arctic, the body will become irrelevant, some observers say.
Continued inaction on climate change means “the planet is going to be roasted by 2100,” according to Bob Corell, the chairman of the 2004 Arctic Climate Impact Assessment.
Most recent research from the Arctic shows:
• increased melt of Greenland’s ice sheet, which means sea level rise will be higher than earlier forecasts;
• ice-free summers as early as 2035 or 2040;
• more acidification of Arctic Ocean water;
• increased glacial melting in all Arctic regions;
• higher temperatures and a “profound loss” of Arctic lake ice, particularly in the High Arctic;
• shorter ice duration on lakes and rivers, with freeze-up later by 10.7 days, and break-up earlier by 8.8 days;
• more contamination released by melting ice and snow, which ends up in fish, birds, marine mammals — and people.
That’s in addition to changes in Arctic Ocean and wind currents and lower numbers of some migratory seabirds.