The USA assumed chairmanship of the Arctic Council last week, amid speculation over whether the new chair will fulfil its mandate of environmental protection and sustainable development in this group of Arctic states.
This issue was a key point of discussion in and around the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Iqaluit, Canada that took place over the weekend.
‘Addressing the impacts of climate change’ is one of three focus areas outlined in the programme for the US chairmanship of the Arctic Council.
While positive, this seems at odds with the Obama administration’s recent approval of offshore oil and gas lease sales in the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic Ocean.
In January 2015 the Obama administration announced a new five-year plan that schedules 14 lease sales in eight planning areas between 2017 and 2022: 10 sales in the Gulf of Mexico, three off the coast of Alaska and one in the Atlantic Ocean.
The plan makes available 80% of all recoverable offshore oil at a time when deep and rapid cuts in fossil fuel use are needed to halt global warming.
‘The Deepwater Horizon disaster should have been a wake-up call for the Obama administration to develop an energy policy that’s less hazardous and more sustainable. Instead we’re sleepwalking our way into future disasters and learning nothing from the past.’
Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity
Producing and burning ‘recoverable’ oil and gas reserves in the Arctic Ocean has the potential to release 15.8 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere — the equivalent of the emissions from all forms of transportation in the United States over a nine-year period, or of burning 90 years’ worth of oil flowing through the Keystone XL pipeline at maximum capacity.
‘You, Admiral, are about to be in receipt of an historic opportunity to halt this destruction, a most unusual and auspicious opportunity, the kind that may never come again, certainly not in time to count, the kind that goes down in history. It is not hyperbolic to say that changing course on drilling for oil in the Arctic would mean changing the lives of every person alive on this planet today and every generation yet to come.’
Emma Thompson, in an open letter to US Special Arctic Envoy Admiral Papp
Although the US chairmanship is important, the Arctic states can at any time choose to use their power to help or hinder environmental sustainability in the region.
In the run-up to the Arctic Council meeting in Iqaluit, each of the foreign ministers of the eight Arctic states was presented with the Arctic Declaration, a 10-point charter for Arctic protection.
Each minister has been asked to do what they can to secure a greener and fairer future for the Arctic. More specifically, they have each been asked to hang their framed copy of the Arctic Declaration on their wall as a daily reminder that the eyes of the world are on the Arctic – and on them.
For a more detailed analysis of the Arctic Council, read the new Greenpeace report: The Practice and Promise of the Arctic Council.
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