The Arctic is changing. It is warming faster than any other region on earth, twice the rate of the global average. When it comes to increasing temperatures and the decrease in sea-ice that goes along with it, the changes that have taken place over the past three decades are unprecedented in the last 1,500 years.
With these changes, areas of the Arctic Ocean that were formerly inaccessible to humans are opening up. And since the extent of summertime sea-ice is receding at a rate of some 13 per cent per decade, it is likely that the Arctic Ocean will become seasonally sea-ice free sometime before 2050.
This change paves the way for increased human traffic in the region, which in turn raises the risks for marine ecosystems, said Secretary of State John Kerry.The risks to the fragile Arctic environment and communities can be managed through a balanced approach. As people seek to capitalize on new opportunities in the region, we must ensure that development proceeds wisely and carefully, and that it is sustainable.
Secretary Kerry spoke at the Arctic Council Ministerial, a biennial meeting of representatives of the 8 Arctic countries and 6 permanent participants representing the indigenous peoples of the region.
This year, the forum’s leadership passed to the United States. This means that the United States has the opportunity to develop, with consensus from the other Arctic States, a program of initiatives for the Council to undertake over the next two years.
With the motto “One Arctic: Shared Opportunities, Challenges, and Responsibilities” in mind, the United States hopes tolead the Council’s work in a direction that will strike a balance between the needs of the indigenous populations, preservation of the environment, and development. That means making preparations for the anticipated increase in human activity in the Arctic Ocean, improving the economic and living conditions of the nearly 4 million people who live in the Arctic region, and addressing the impacts of climate change by reducing emissions, helping Arctic communities to build climate resilience, and strengthening Arctic climate science.
“The region is changing faster than ever, and the challenges are greater and more urgent than ever. And how we as Arctic states, and indeed the global community, respond to this is going to make all of the difference,” said Secretary of State Kerry.
“Ultimately, we all share one Arctic and we have to do everything that we can to ensure that the interests and the future of this vital and sensitive region are protected.”