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The Arctic

Evan T. Bloom, Deputy Director for Polar and Scientific Affairs
Remarks to the Conference on the United States, Climate Change and the Arctic Renewed American Interest in a Changing North
University of Québec at the Montréal Science Centre, Canada
April 19, 2007

 


April 19-20, 2007
University of Québec at Montréal
Montréal Science Centre


Office of Oceans Affairs
Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Science
U.S. Department of State
April 19, 2007

United States Arctic Policy in 2007

Introduction

I am very pleased to participate in this important conference on the Arctic. This meeting has a very wide-ranging and important theme, one that is being discussed a great deal in Washington and elsewhere in the United States.

The U.S. is an Arctic country. It has very strong interests in the High North. American interests are not "renewed" - they have always been there, at least since we bought Alaska from the Tsar in 1867. Just ask our Alaskan citizens. Nevertheless, a changing North is causing the U.S., as well as many other countries, to focus particular attention on the Arctic, its environment and the people who live there.

You've assigned to me a very broad topic - U.S. Arctic policy in 2007. That is a hard topic to do justice to because of the breadth of American interests in the Arctic.

Alaska is naturally the main focus for our Arctic policies domestically. A large number of U.S. agencies have roles in Arctic policy. The Department of Interior probably has the largest domestic Arctic portfolio with its many bureaus and services that work in Alaska, including the Fish and Wildlife service, the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration within the Department of Commerce commits significant resources to scientific work in the Arctic, on both atmospheric and marine research. The U.S. Coast Guard, within the Department of Homeland Security, is responsible for monitoring the Arctic coastline and defending our borders, as well as having a role in enforcing fisheries agreements to which the U.S. is party.

Other key agencies for Arctic policy include the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation. And you have already heard from the present and former chairmen of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, which sets key priorities for U.S. research.

Meaningful federal policy for the Arctic must take into account the interests of the people and State of Alaska. For that reason, we in the federal government maintain close ties with Alaska as we determine or policies.

The Bilateral Dimension

U.S. Arctic policy is first and foremost, in a foreign policy sense, focused on cooperation with the eight states that have territory in the Arctic, and there is no more important bilateral relationship in that context for us than Canada. The United States has exceptionally good cooperation with Canada on a tremendous range of issues, as befits two countries that share a border of thousands of miles.

I'll mention just one example out of many. In 2003, the U.S. National Ice Service, the Canadian Ice Service and the International Ice Service formed a special partnership, the North American Ice Service that combines the strengths and resources of all three organizations. The NAIS provides integrated ice service planning and operations for both governments, and the services' combined efforts avoid duplication and promote maritime safety and environmental protection.

Of course, the U.S. and Canadian Coast Guards work closely on shared missions to promote safety and protect the environment. U.S. and Canadian scientists are also working together on numerous projects related to the International Polar Year.

We have much Arctic business with Canada, but of course we have important relationships with the other Arctic States as well. Russia is a key example, where there is an important long-term need to maintain bilateral cooperation. There are many facets to that relationship, including efforts to assist Russia with environmental protection and remediation in the Russian Far East.

Security Issues

There is, naturally, a security dimension to U.S. interests in the Arctic as with many other places. And when I speak of security, I am referring to a broad range of economic, energy, defense and related security interests. This fits in with close U.S.-Canada cooperation on related issues. For example, the U.S. and Canada have been partners in the common defense of North America for over 60 years, including through NORAD.

There is no more important trading partner for the U.S. than Canada, measured in volume or value, goods or services. Energy is also a critical part of our bilateral relationship. Canada is our single largest supplier of imported crude oil and petroleum products, natural gas, electricity and uranium, and it is a stable supplier.

Although there are no longer Cold War tensions in the region, the U.S. continues to have strong national security interests in the Arctic. We have a strong interest in maintaining peace and stability, controlling our borders, carrying out military exercises in the region, and moving ships and aircraft freely under customary international law rights and freedoms as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention.

Security issues in the Arctic play a key role in determining whether and to what extent the US Government will invest in new icebreakers, which is a matter under active consideration.

The Arctic is an area rich in natural resources, and the U.S. promotes sustainable development in that region. Transportation is a matter of considerable interest. Thus, with respect to commercial shipping, Canada and the U.S. are leading a major effort in the Arctic Council to estimate future shipping activity and needs in the Arctic Ocean as a consequence of predicted sea ice melting. The Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA) will use 2004 as a baseline, and will extrapolate to 2020 and 2050, while taking into consideration impacts on indigenous people, the environment and the regional economy. The Assessment will be the largest and most comprehensive effort to look at current and future Arctic shipping, and could stimulate more governmental focus on security issues.

We also work closely with Norway and Russia in AMEC, the Arctic Military Environmental Cooperation forum. AMEC was created in 1996 to address critical environmental concerns and in particular has assisted Russia with spent nuclear fuel containment and remediating radioactive pollution. The U.S. is working on environmental clean-up activities with Russia in Franz Josef Land as well.

Indigenous Communities

As our Consul General indicated earlier, it is an important element of U.S. Arctic policy to work with indigenous groups. We strongly supported Canada's proposal to include indigenous organizations as "permanent participants" in the Arctic Council, where their voice in the proceedings is a key and distinguishing element of that forum. U.S. state and federal agencies also work closely with Alaska native groups. Many U.S. programs make a concerted effort to ensure that traditional knowledge is taken into account in scientific research, and U.S. science agencies try to conduct their work in a culturally sensitive manner, including indigenous persons in the design and implementation of projects.

Scientific and Environmental Issues

Science and environment are in the forefront of our Arctic focus.

We have very strong environmental interests in the Arctic, including monitoring, assessment and control of pollutants, conservation of flora and fauna, protecting marine ecosystems, and developing capacity to prevent and respond to environmental emergencies. These are interests we share with Canadians. Thus, for example, with respect to the Northwest Passage, we have shared interests in marine safety and protection of the environment, and if shipping is going to bring economic activity to the Northwest Passage and the Arctic region in general as a result of climate change, technology or both, we have a shared interest in seeing that the benefits outweigh the costs.

Climate change is, of course, a tremendously important issue for the Arctic. We are concerned with the impacts of climate change that are being felt there. The Arctic is a vitally important place for studying how global change affects the entire planet, and change at the poles is occurring at a rapid pace that has immediate impacts on the people who live there, as well as flora and fauna in the entire region. Climate change is the overwhelming focus of the scientific community's attention in the Arctic. It frames political discourse as well, especially in light of the recent reports released by the IPCC, leading to the kind of focus we have in meetings like this one.

Our climate policy is based on sound science for sound decision-making. The U.S. invests approximately $2 billion per year in multi-agency research programs related to climate change, which we hope provides a sound scientific basis for national and international decision-making. Since 2001, the President has requested and Congress has provided substantial funding for climate-related science, technology, observations, international assistance and incentive programs - on the order of $35 billion. We are also investing nearly $3 billion annually in technology in order to lay the groundwork for revolutionizing over the medium to long-term, the way we consume and produce energy.

The Arctic is an essential place for science, especially for climate change. Federal scientific efforts in the Arctic are coordinated through the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC) with advice from the U.S. Arctic Research Commission. U.S. agencies spent over $320 million on Arctic research in fiscal year 2005. There are many examples, past and present.

One thing I'd like to mention is the U.S.-sponsored Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, which was launched during the U.S. chairmanship of the Arctic Council from 1998 to 2000. We are proud of the science that was done, and this effort has done much to elevate public awareness of the impacts of climate change in the Arctic.

Another effort I'd like to highlight is the Arctic Council's Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program (CBMP), led by Canada and in which the U.S. is an active participant. This program is expected to give us the most comprehensive picture of the effects of climate change on Arctic wildlife and ecosystems to date.

I'm sure you've read that the U.S. is now looking closely from a regulatory point of view at issues related to polar bear conservation. Thus, the Interior Department is reviewing whether polar bears should be listed as threatened under our Endangered Species Act. At the same time, we are about to bring into force a new bilateral treaty with Russia designed to protect the Alaska-Chukotka polar bear population. That treaty is consistent with and promotes the objective of the multilateral polar bear treaty to which the U.S. and Canada are parties

Arctic Council

I spoke of bilateral issues, but of course there is a multilateral dimension to Arctic foreign policy. Multilaterally, much of U.S. policy in the Arctic focuses on the Arctic Council. The United States supported the Canadian proposal in the Ottawa Declaration of 1998 to transform the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy into the Council, a high level forum devoted to environmental protection and sustainable development. Over the past ten years, both the United States and Canada have chaired the Council and both are very active in a wide range of Council programs.

Because no single country can solve the region's problems, we work within the Council to forge the best regional solutions, including addressing the effects of climate change.

Canada has taken the lead on some important and ground-breaking projects in the Council. Most recently, Canada announced it would initiate a project on Arctic Indigenous Languages. The first step will be a symposium in early 2008 that will provide a forum for discussing challenges to preserving indigenous languages in the circumpolar region. The U.S. Arctic Research Commission has expressed interest in indigenous language preservation and I hope the U.S. will be able to participate in this important and timely endeavor.

The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) has contributed very important scientific observation, monitoring and modeling work that supports the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), including its 4th Assessment Report coming out right now. AMAP is also going to release a first-ever study of the impacts of oil and gas development in the Arctic early next year. The U.S. has a major leadership role in this assessment.

Norway has just taken on the rotating chairmanship of the Council, and we look forward to much progress on issues of concern to the region and the rest of the world, including the impacts of oil and gas development, ecosystem-based oceans management in the Arctic and a range of projects that promote sustainable development.

So much is going on. For example, human health is an extremely important facet of Arctic policy, and the Arctic Council is involved in significant projects in that field. Within the Council, the U.S. is leading and Canada is supporting the Arctic Human Health Initiative, an IPY project that will study a range of human health issues from infectious and chronic disease surveillance, to contaminants in the indigenous traditional food supply, to alcoholism and drug abuse by Arctic youth and many other health concerns, many of which may be influenced by climate change.

A key part of the AHHI is the on-going International Circumpolar Surveillance project, led by our Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that addresses prevention and control of emerging infectious diseases in the Arctic. The ICS has been underway since 1999 and all eight Arctic States participate in it.

In addition, several federal and Alaska state agencies are monitoring the avian influenza situation as an early warning of its entry into North America via migratory birds passing through Alaska. Part of this effort is to reach out to Native Alaskans whose traditional diet includes animal species that could potentially carry avian influenza.

The United States has participated along with Canada in important sociological studies as part of the Arctic Council, including the 2004 Arctic Human Development Report, which looked at the human dimension of sustainable development. A key follow-up activity to that Report is the Survey of Living Conditions in the Arctic (SLiCA) which encompasses the first-ever compilation of some 16,000 interviews with Arctic residents on subjects such as education, health, work, leisure, crime, household economy and other matters. How Arctic residents are adapting to climate change is part of the SLiCA investigation.

At the most recent Arctic Council Ministerial meeting, the U.S. was instrumental in developing the Council's new program of work on climate adaptation. We wanted to work with our fellow member states to find a unique niche for the Council in Arctic climate change given its growing impact in the region. Adaptation is an area in which a lot of research and on-the-ground activity is taking place in all eight Arctic states. It is also a local concern that could benefit from the sharing of information and expertise. As an intergovernmental forum, the Arctic Council was designed to facilitate just this kind of regional cooperation.

The first ten years of the Arctic Council were a great success in our view, in no small part because of our great working relationship with our northern neighbor. We look forward to the next ten years and an even closer and stronger partnership with Canada.



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