By David A Balton on May 10, 2017
The Arctic is a special place. Its awe-inspiring natural beauty suggests a land untouched by time. But it is not a park – people have been living in the Arctic for thousands of years. Today, the ways of life of Arctic peoples, along with the Arctic itself, is changing rapidly and profoundly. Many of these changes – environmental, social and economic – transcend national borders, making international cooperation critical for the Arctic’s future.
The Arctic Council serves as the forum where Arctic nations and peoples collaborate to protect the Arctic’s environment while also fostering development of its economic potential in responsible and sustainable ways. This week in Fairbanks, Alaska, the United States will proudly conclude a successful two-year Arctic Council Chairmanship with concrete achievements that will improve economic and living conditions in the Arctic region; enhance Arctic Ocean safety, security and stewardship; and strengthen the resilience and adaptation capabilities of Arctic communities in the face of climate change.
Several of our achievements during our Chairmanship deserve special attention. The Council completed an assessment that identifies gaps in telecommunications capabilities across the region which, when remedied, will improve the lives and boost the economies of the countries in the Arctic region. The Arctic Council has also created a groundbreaking new tool, the Arctic Ship Traffic Database, to track shipping routes and prepare for an anticipated increase in activity. This surge in shipping will stimulate investment in infrastructure and benefit the economies of Arctic nations.
To ensure continued responsible development in the Arctic, the Arctic Council focused on initiatives that enhance the safety and good stewardship of the region. As we see more human activity in the Arctic, we need to be better prepared to protect the people who live and work there. Under U.S. leadership, the Council worked together to enhanced search and rescue readiness through live exercises. The recent entry into force of an agreement to cooperate on oil spills in the Arctic and an updated guide on how to respond if one happens help prepare and protect us from potential challenges in the future.
We are especially proud to announce a landmark scientific cooperation agreement, through negotiations led by the United States and Russia, which will usher in a new era of Arctic science by breaking down the barriers to research and exploration in the region. Together, we will increase our knowledge about the challenges and opportunities in the Arctic.
Alaska is America’s Arctic. It is tough, beautiful, and complex. The United States looks forward to hosting the foreign ministers of the other Arctic nations and leaders of indigenous Arctic groups in Fairbanks this week to celebrate the conclusion of our successful chairmanship. We wish great success to Finland which will serve as the next chair. Thanks to the dedication of the many groups and individuals supporting it, we know the Arctic Council will continue to preserve and protect the economic opportunities and unique beauty of the Arctic for future generations.
About the Author: David A. Balton serves as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Fisheries in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.