Maritime shipping regulations, oil-spill cleanup capabilities and search and rescue capabilities topped the agenda at today’s Arctic Ocean’s Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Chelsea, Canada, held immediately before the opening of the G8 Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Gatineau, Canada.
While these top-line issues make headlines, at the core of all these emerging Arctic issues, is climate change. These meetings were based on the Ilulissat Declaration of 2008, which recognizes – and is largely based on – the quickly changing Arctic due to climate change. Today’s meetings showed us which international players are thinking and acting on issues of climate.
Today Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere reminded all ministers of the rationale behind their meeting. “I think we are discovering that the Arctic is climbing to the top attention of the international community, and for good reason, because of climate change, new sailing routes, available resources [and] geo-political changes.”
Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon seconded that thought by a thin thread by noting, “The Arctic Ocean region is on the verge of significant and fundamental change.” Minutes later, he merged into the fact that climate change was also helping us uncover 1/5 of the remaining petroleum reserves, which lie largely within the jurisdiction of the five coastal states invited to the ministerial – an issue that environmental and indigenous groups took issue with earlier today. “International interest in the region has never been greater,” he said.
And despite Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, breezing past the press gallery without a word (a little heart-breaking, yet understandable given our remarkably short-term relationship), she certainly made up for it this afternoon on CTV’s Power Play interview with Tom Clark (full script here) as she had her say on the Arctic ministerial and the plethora of issues at hand and at stake.
She explained, as did Cannon, the need for countries such as the United States and Canada to band together to take on new northern challenges as climate change opens up the great North. “Neither of us could do it alone; together we’re getting very valuable information.”
“I mean, there are so many issues that ten years ago were theoretical. Today they’re real. We are seeing the retreat of the ice - unfortunately. We are seeing our indigenous populations under greater and greater pressure. I am working with Foreign Minister Cannon to see how we can make progress on some of these matters that up until now have been academic, but now we need to take them seriously and try to make progress together.”
And on climate change? Clinton says, “We have to do research into the fisheries as the water warms because of climate change in the Arctic – What’s going to happen to the fishing stock and how do countries like the United States and Canada, which share a coastal region with the Arctic Ocean, get prepared for that?”
“If we don’t start coordinating, yes, there is the potential for some challenges. But I think if we get ahead of it, and we lay out how we’re going to do this, I believe we can be in good shape going forward.”
As climate change continues to impact northern regions, issues of security, safety, peace and development are all issues at the forefront of governments minds. The climate scientists called it. And now it’s here. Our goal now is to adapt to the changes we’ve already locked ourselves in to, while pushing as hard and as fast as we can to stop emissions from growing in the world.
Today’s meetings showed that our leaders are ready to deal with the challenges, while Clinton, Okada and Stoere go as far as to understand the true depths and importance of why these issues have become issues n the first place.
Like Minister Cannon said, “We clearly understand the potential of the north – the vast magnificent northern treasure – for generations to come.” It’s now up for all Arctic states to prove this is the case.