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U.S. Launch of the International Polar Year 2007-2008

Paula J. Dobriansky, Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs
Remarks at the National Academy of Sciences
Washington, DC
February 26, 2007

Thank you. I am delighted to be here at the launch of the U.S. International Polar Year. That so many colleagues, prominent scientists, elected representatives-including Senator Murkowski and Congressman Baird-and other distinguished guests are here today is a testament to the importance of, and interest in, the polar regions of our planet. I'd like to thank Dr. Bement and the team at the National Science Foundation, as well as Dr. Cicerone and the National Academy of Science, for organizing this event.

We are gathered today in the very building where the Antarctic Treaty-the "Treaty of Washington"-was signed in 1959. Conceived during an era of vigorous international competition, that Treaty not only helped keep the peace; it has also fostered close international scientific cooperation.

But international scientific collaboration in the polar regions long predates the Treaty. The first International Polar year was launched in 1881. Those polar scientists and explorers of 126 years ago, who represented a dozen or so nations, provided detailed scientific information that we still make reference to today. They demonstrated early on how science can bring people of many nations together, and how international cooperation advances scientific knowledge.

That of course holds true in the polar regions in our time. Researchers from over 60 nations are working together to further our understanding of the interdependency of land, oceans, and atmosphere.

Many U.S. agencies, including the National Science Foundation, are involved in this effort. I will focus on the efforts of my own agency, the Department of State. The Department coordinates federal policy with respect to the Arctic and Antarctic, and heads U.S. delegations to international fora such as the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, the Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, and the Arctic Council. The U.S. Government has invested considerable effort and resources in projects related to the polar regions-over $350 million per year-and we are excited about International Polar Year. I'd like to share at least some of what is now being done, and what we can achieve together in the future, by highlighting four areas: initiatives that promote international science cooperation generally; health; energy; and indigenous groups.

First, the State Department supports scientific efforts worldwide by facilitating cooperation with foreign governments through science and technology agreements and other collaborative arrangements. For example, marine science will form an important component of the International Polar Year, and our vessel clearance program ensures that marine scientific research by U.S. entities can take place in foreign Arctic waters, and vice versa.

The second issue I'd like to spotlight is health. Through the Arctic Council, we coordinate a wide range of science projects related to the International Polar Year. One of the major projects under the new "human dimension" aspect of IPY is the Arctic Human Health Initiative. Under the leadership of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Arctic Human Health Initiative will cover a broad range of health issues facing Arctic residents, including infectious diseases, chronic illnesses, dietary issues, and environmental contaminants.

Third, the United States is leading an IPY project in energy: the Arctic Energy Summit. Later this year, the U.S. will host a technical conference in Alaska to bring together experts in all fields of energy development in the Arctic, including renewable, extractive, and emerging energy technologies. The plan is to create an energy action working group to advise policymakers in the Arctic countries how we can better deliver energy to remote areas and how we can extract energy resources in ways that protect the environment and create good jobs for northern residents.

Finally, I want to underscore the important role played by indigenous groups and individuals in the International Polar Year. Alaskan natives are leading a number of projects for IPY. The Aleut International Association proposed the Bering Sea Sub-network, an initiative to monitor changes in the marine environment of the Bering Sea. Villagers on both sides of the Bering Sea will engage in community-based monitoring of the marine environment and fold their research into the larger Arctic Council Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program.

Today, I have shared only a few of our contributions to this collective effort. But I want to emphasize our commitment to scientific inquiry and education, and that our attention to polar regions is an important aspect of U.S. foreign policy.

Thank you all for your dedication and commitment to polar regions, and thank you again for inviting me today.

Released on February 27, 2007

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