US signs Arctic climate declaration —with caveats

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on May 11 signed the Fairbanks Declaration, affirming the neeed for protection of the Arctic's climate. The move, at the 10th Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting held in the Alaska city, came after much speculation that the US would decline to sign, or even use the occasion to announce its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. The Fairbanks Declaration notes the importance of the Paris Agreement, while stating that "the Arctic is warming at more than twice the rate of the global average." The US getting on board was apparently the fruit of behind-the-scenes diplomatic pressure. "I think we were able to push the US back as much as possible," Rene Solderman, Finland's senior adviser on Arctic affairs, told reporters after the ministerial session.

Tillerson's remarks at Fairbanks, however, revealed caveats about the US commitment: "We are appreciative that each of you has an important point of view, and you should know that we are taking the time to understand your concerns. We're not going to rush to make a decision. We're going to work to make the right decision for the United States."

Just two weeks ago, President Trump signed an executive order opening Arctic waters to offshore oil drilling, reversing an Obama order protecting the waters.

The Arctic Council's formal members are the United States, Canada, Russia, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. However, indigenous peoples of the Arctic were also on hand to address the proceedings. They spoke with a sense of urgency, emphasizing the dramatic retreat of Arctic sea ice opening a long-sought Northwest Passage, marine species loss due to ocean acidification, and related signs of an imminent global tipping point.

"All of these things are real and they are happening right now," said Patricia Lekanoff Gregory, speaking for the Aleut International Association. "We cannot let politics interfere with the actions that are needed now."

Bill Erasmus of the Arctic Athabaskan Council called climate change a threat to his people's culture and identity. "We are connected to the land. That is who we are," he said

Asa Larsson Blind of the Saami Council, representing indigenous people of northern Europe, added: "If our shared values are put at risk, the policies should change, not the values. The Saami Council urges everyone to put Mother Nature first." (Alaska Dispatch News, AP, Jurist, May 12; Eye on the Arctic, March 9)

Arctic seed repository breached by floodwaters

Well, this is a telling irony. The Global Seed Vault, established on the remote Norwegian island of Spitsbergen as an emergency repository in the event of a "doomsday" scenario, was itself flooded as the island's permafrost melted—a contingency not foreseen when the facility was opened in 2008. Fortunately, none of the seeds were damaged, but the notion that the arctic storehouse is secure is clearly shot to hell. (The Guardian, May 19)

Warmer Arctic is the 'new normal'

A warming, rapidly changing Arctic is the "new normal" and shows no signs of returning to the reliably frozen region of the past. This is according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Arctic Report Card. Director of the administration's Arctic Researcher Program, Dr. Jeremy Mathis, said the region did a great service to the planet - acting as a refrigerator. "We've now left that refrigerator door open," he added.

Mathis was speaking at the annual American Geophysical Union meeting in New Orleans, where NOAA presented its 12th annual summation of Arctic science. Although it pointed to "a few anomalies" in a recent pattern of warming in the Arctic, Mathis said: "We can confirm, it will not stay in its reliably frozen state." (BBC News)