The Arctic region is warming faster than any other region on earth, more than twice the rate of the global average according to recent reports. This means, among other things, that areas of the Arctic Ocean that were formerly inaccessible to humans are opening up for increased human traffic.
But the warming of the Arctic raises the risks for fragile land and marine ecosystems, which must be managed through a balanced approach, lest they become damaged beyond recovery.
This is where the Arctic Council comes in. A high-level forum of the eight nations with territory in the region and representatives of indigenous peoples who live in the region, the biennial Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting gives Arctic nations and peoples a forum in which to address these concerns, balancing the protection of the Arctic’s fragile environment with responsible, sustainable development.
On May 10th and 11th, in Fairbanks, Alaska, the Council held its 10th Ministerial Meeting, which marked the conclusion of the two-year U.S. chairmanship of this body. Under U.S. leadership, the Council completed an assessment of the telecommunications infrastructure in the Arctic; launched a new Arctic Ship Traffic Database to keep track of vessels passing through the Arctic; and implemented two agreements signed by Council members during the last meeting, one on improving search-and-rescue in the Arctic region, and the second on preparing and responding to potential oil pollution incidents in the Arctic.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the other foreign ministers also signed two documents at the Fairbanks Ministerial: a binding agreement that will promote scientific cooperation throughout the Arctic, and the Fairbanks Declaration, a non-binding statement that affirms the signatories’ commitment to maintain peace, stability, and constructive cooperation in the Arctic; promotes the economic development of indigenous peoples there; and recognizes that climate change is a serious threat to the Arctic, and calls for timely action to address this threat.
“The United States had been privileged to lead the Arctic Council at a time when the Arctic region has been facing unprecedented change and challenges,” said Secretary Tillerson, who hosted the meeting as Chair of the Arctic Council.
“The Arctic Council…has proven to be an indispensable forum in which we can pursue cooperation.I want to affirm that the United States will continue to be an active member in this Council.The opportunity to chair the Council has only strengthened our commitment to continuing its work in the future.”