Glacial Change: Will The Arctic Council Meeting Be Just Another Missed Opportunity for Climate Action?

Climate change is slamming the Arctic more severely than any other place on Earth. Yet tomorrow’s Arctic Council ministerial meeting in Kiruna, Sweden is not expected to produce substantial action to address it.

In short, glaciers are moving faster than efforts to slow them. Representatives from the eight Arctic nations, including US Secretary of State John Kerry, will gather to sign an oil spill preparedness and response agreement and vote on permanent observer status for other major nations with Arctic interests, including China and the EU. While the agenda includes presentations on ocean acidification and resilience, meaningful commitments to slow the devastating effects of climate change are unlikely.

Acknowledging the fact that climate change is occurring in the Arctic at double the rate of the rest of the planet, Gustaf Lind, Sweden’s top Arctic official, stated in a pre-meeting press conference that discussions regarding reductions in the CO2 emissions that fuel global warming should be reserved for the United Nations process.

However, CO2 reductions are not the only means of curbing climate change, and smaller forums like the Arctic Council offer a rare opportunity to reach agreements without needing 190 countries on board. The last ministerial meeting in 2011 highlighted the role of black carbon in climate change. Black carbon — essentially soot from inefficient combustion, such as natural gas flaring, wood stoves and the controlled burning of agricultural waste — is particularly dangerous in the Arctic, where it darkens ice surfaces and accelerates melting.

Black carbon and other short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) are potent greenhouse gases that play a major role in driving global warming. However, new research from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography found that reducing SCLPs in conjunction with curbing carbon pollution could have a very powerful effect on mitigating climate change. Though the Council’s Task Force on SLCPs has produced a significant body of research and recommendations, no commitments from Arctic Council members to curb their emissions were made in 2011 and two years later, SLCPs are on the agenda once again but without a plan to reduce their destructive presence.

Unfortunately, time is not on the Council’s side. Last year was a very grim one for the Arctic, as record-low sea ice extent, record ice sheet surface melting in Greenland, record-high permafrost temperature, and record-low snow extent were all recorded.

Secretary Kerry has underscored the urgency of climate change in recent months, today offering “regret” that the US hasn’t done more to address the problem. A new Arctic management plan released by the White House on Friday, however, was little more than a restatement of the vague goals for the region drafted at the end of the Bush presidency. In addition to advocating responsible stewardship of the Arctic ecosystem, the plan called for development of offshore oil and gas resources as part of the administration’s “all of the above” strategy.

Offshore drilling in the Arctic comes with an enormous risk and cost due to the lack of infrastructure, oil spill response technology, baseline scientific knowledge, and preparedness to operate in the harsh and unpredictable conditions. Ironically, the dramatic changes experienced throughout the Arctic — many of which are the result of man-made climate change — are unlocking massive fossil-fuel reserves which, when burned, would only accelerate the destructive cycle of unchecked emissions and warming. Slowing the devastating steamroll of climate change requires slashing the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere, not opening up vast new sources of carbon.

At a time when climate change should receive top billing at the Arctic Council ministerial, allowing another meeting to pass without a concerted effort to deal directly with the pollutants that are driving the dramatic changes in the Arctic is a serious missed opportunity.

17 Responses to Glacial Change: Will The Arctic Council Meeting Be Just Another Missed Opportunity for Climate Action?

  1. prokaryotes says:

    Kerry: ‘Climate Change’ Is a ‘Life and Death’ Issue
    Apologizes for America’s lack of action on “climate change.”

  2. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    John Kerry ‘regrets’ the USA’s lack of action, does he? Words fail me. I’ll laugh instead.

  3. Superman1 says:

    “Words fail me.” We should be so lucky!

  4. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Super-do you not find your comment to be a tad hypocritical, given your own logorrhoea?

  5. Camburn says:

    Sec Kerry has no authority to make any commitment at this conference.

  6. Tom L says:

    From Kerry’s Huffpo article this morning: “Receding sea ice might bring new commerce and industry to the region, including exploration of offshore oil and gas…”

    And “We’re focused on ensuring a secure, peaceful, and prosperous Arctic.”

    A “prosperous Arctic”! I feel ill.

  7. Tom L says:

    So much for our environmentalist secretary’s regrets.

  8. Superman1 says:

    Come now, I’m sure if you ‘polled’ Kerry on his attitude toward preventing climate change, he would be one of the 70% positive responders that ‘you’ and other members of the Amen Corner quote incessantly. He says the right words; in your world, that’s hard fact!

  9. Lou Grinzo says:

    No one should be surprised by these developments (no pun intended). Right now, the public perception is that climate change is future problem, one that we can defer addressing while we do things with more immediate (potential) payback, like pursuing the economic development of the Arctic region.

    As I keep saying online, we have to think like politicians. They know the real deal with CC, but they see it as a problem they can kick down the street to the next administration. The don’t want to take the political hit, either personally or for their party, by triggering another instance of Jimmy Carter Syndrome (speak the inconvenient truth, get crushed for it by deniers and political opponents).

    Mainstream voters and consumers in the US are still acting like spoiled brats who dare not be told anything they don’t like or they’ll throw a hissy fit and pick new parents. Until that changes or we find politicians with the courage to show some (gasp!) genuine leadership, nothing will change.

  10. Tom L says:

    I voted for the Green Party and have never supported this administration. That’s a hard fact! So go ahead and hate blindly brother. And it might interest you to also learn, if you’re interested in learning, that my sense of impending doom and futility is actually closer to your view than with some of the others you constantly denigrate. But it’s about fighting for the children, future ‘others’, and the rest of the biosphere. Of course, one has to actually care in order to refuse to surrender to futility and hopelessness.

  11. Tom L says:

    And BTW, I offered that “brother” in sincerity and not sarcasm as it is my heartfelt belief that all men are indeed brothers. One world – one love. So believe it or not, I love you Superman. Do yourself a favor and open your heart and let in some light.

  12. Jim B says:

    Mulga is a thinker and fantastic writer. I really look forward to reading his comments.

  13. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Thanks Jim. I do think, however lucidly is up to others to decide. I do try to be honest about my conclusions, although I do modify them so as not to offend others’ sensibilities. After all, this place is blessedly free of the disruptive morons who infest most other sites I have ever frequented, and who are so plainly favoured by the Rightwing MSM Thought Police.

  14. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ‘Prosperous’ is important to the Senator. He is a VERY rich man with much invested in the capitalist system.

  15. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The type of ‘leadership’ that does not lead the followers to a better place is quite pointless. But ‘leadership’ that actually draws the followers into the Valley of the Shadow of Death is diabolical. A real leader would gladly sacrifice his or her life in the cause of saving humanity, if only for the sake of their own children, let alone everyone else’s and the great achievements of humanity, of which we are but the present custodians and which deserve to go on for as long as possible into the future. That we live in a system which cannot throw up such leaders, but instead produces opportunists, dissemblers, servants of the money power, hate and fear-mongers, character assassins, prevaricators, poltroons and nincompoops tells me that the system is entirely malign, and must go. Then we can seek out the best amongst us to be our guides, and they will not resemble the current crop in any manner.

  16. LMA says:

    For the next two years Canada will be chair of the Arctic Council and the Harper government will be doing everything possible to promote oil and gas exploration and shipping, despite First Nations protests. I encourage everyone to join the Greenpeace campaign to protect the Arctic.

  17. JM says:

    So surprised by this….not. BTW, anyone know if Kerry actually divested from his oil stocks 90 days after being sworn in as Secretary of States she said he would?

Kiley Kroh is the Associate Director for Ocean Communications at the Center for American Progress. Rebecca Lefton, Senior Policy Analyst, contributed to this post.