On Wednesday, May 15, diplomats from eight nations – including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry - are meeting in Kiruna, Sweden to discuss the future of the Arctic and sign an agreement on how to respond to and handle oil spills.
The meeting comes at a critical time for the Arctic, which is warming twice as fast as almost any other region on earth. As it warms, melting sea ice will give people more access to use the Arctic Ocean as a shipping route. It could also mean “greater exploitation of natural resources, such as oil and gas, minerals, and fisheries; and increased tourism” – all of which will present significant challenges for a once remote area, according to a report by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
A warming Arctic will have significant environmental and health consequences for the entire world, including sea level rise, release of stored chemicals and greenhouse gasses into the environment, and impacts on biodiversity…
U.S. Ambassador to Sweden Mark Brzezinski can attest to those changes. He witnessed first-hand the impact that climate change has had on Arctic flora and fauna during a visit to the Abisko Scientific Research Station, located about 90 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of Kiruna.
After meeting with Station Manager Christer Jonasson and visiting scientists, Ambassador Brzezinski shared what he learned in his blog:
Christer [Jonasson] explained that scientists have discovered cases where higher temperatures have created ice caps on top of the snow which is making it harder for reindeer herds to access food. Since some of the members of the indigenous Sami are heavily dependent on reindeer, these kinds of findings are extremely important. Christer and his team are working with the Sami to adapt to the changes induced by climate change.
Another recent phenomenon is that the birch forests around Abisko often experience invasions of caterpillars in the spring as it is no longer cold enough to kill off the eggs of those pests.
The Arctic Council is made up of Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States, as well as six permanent representatives from Arctic indigenous groups, like the Sami Council and the Russian Association of Indigenous People of the North.
There are 14 countries and organizations seeking “observer status” on the Arctic Council, including China, Spain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the U.K. and Poland.
UPDATE: On Wednesday, May 15, 2013, members of the Arctic Council agreed to grant observer status to China, Japan, South Korea, India, Singapore and Italy. This status allows the countries to sit in on – but not speak at – the council’s main meetings as it determines future policy in the Arctic region. Observer countries are also allowed to participate in working groups held by the Arctic Council.