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article imageJohn Kerry fighting a different Cold War as Arctic Council meets

By Robert Myles     May 18, 2013 in World
Kiruna - Secretary of State John Kerry was engaged in a different type of Cold War last week as he met with representatives of nations bordering the Arctic at the conclusion of Sweden’s two year chairmanship of the Arctic Council.
Just like the old Cold War stand-off between the old Warsaw Pact and NATO, this cold war has the potential to affect everyone on the planet. Recognising the crucial part Arctic ecosystems have to play for Earth as a whole, representatives attending the last Swedish-chaired Arctic Council meeting before Canada assumes its two year chairmanship adopted a forward looking statement entitled ‘Vision for the Arctic’. The communiqué sets out the Arctic states’ and indigenous Permanent Participants’ joint vision for the development of the region.
Founded in 1996, the Arctic Council is a little publicised international body about which not much has been heard — up till now that is. As Arctic ice has continued its record melt, opening up new sea routes and the possibility of the Arctic being exploited for its mineral wealth, so the Arctic Council has become the club that everyone wants to join.
The Arctic Council has as its permanent members Canada, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, the United States and Denmark (the latter representing the dependencies of Greenland and Faroe Islands). It also has a number of permanent participants representing indigenous Arctic peoples. But last week’s conference in Kiruna, Sweden, saw the Arctic Council having to deal with a number of new applications for permanent observer status from countries as diverse as China, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Singapore. The new permanent observer countries will join many European countries already holding observer status including the UK, France, Netherlands, Germany, Poland and Spain.
The clamour to join what has sometimes been dubbed the ‘Coldrush’ club and that Secretary of State Kerry should have taken time out from other pressing matters like the situation in Syria and Afghanistan is indicative of the importance which many states now attach to the Arctic region. How the Arctic is developed, with an estimated 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil reserves, and 30 percent of undiscovered gas deposits lying above the Arctic Circle, will have implications for all nations.
After last week’s Kiruna meeting, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said, “In its two years as Chair of the Arctic Council, Sweden has contributed to strengthening cooperation within the Arctic Council. At this meeting, we have adopted a vision statement for the future of the Arctic shared by the Arctic states and the Indigenous Peoples. This sends an important signal to the rest of the world.”
As well as presenting their vision for the future of the Arctic, representatives from Arctic Council States also signed a new, legally-binding Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic. The aim is to substantially improve procedures for combating oil spills in the Arctic.
Ministers attending also considered a number of important reports. These included:
1. The Arctic Biodiversity Assessment reviewing the status and trends in Arctic biodiversity with policy recommendations for Arctic biodiversity conservation.
2. The Arctic Ocean Review focused on protecting the Arctic marine environment with a number of policy recommendations for Arctic states to strengthen conservation and sustainable use of the Arctic marine environment.
3. The Arctic Ocean Acidification assessment — the first major scientific study of the impact that acidification of the Arctic Ocean may have on Arctic marine ecosystems, as well as the Arctic’s indigenous peoples who depend on them.
Combating short-lived pollutants: HFCs, Black carbon and Methane
Other matters discussed included steps to phase out the use of Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), sometimes termed ‘super greenhouse gases’ and considered a major contributing factor to global warming and climate change, with an obvious impact to the Arctic region.
Following swiftly on the heels of Rep. Scott Peters, a Democrat representing California’s 52nd Congressional District, introducing a new US bill, the Super Pollutant Emissions Reduction Act (SUPER Act) designed to use existing technologies to combat HFCs, Conservativeblog reports that at the Arctic Council meeting, Secretary of State Kerry and Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov signed a declaration calling for an amendment to the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer which would definitively phase out HFCs.
Phasing out HFCs and addressing the problem of other short lived climate pollutants, such as black carbon and methane, would also become part of the road map, known as the Kiruna Declaration signed by ministers at last week’s meeting to set the framework for Canada’s two year chairmanship of the Arctic Council from 2013 to 2015.
During Canada’s two year tenure chairing the Arctic Council, the program will also include the establishment of a Circumpolar Business Forum intended to give new opportunities for business to engage with the Arctic Council as well as continuing work on oil pollution prevention.
Welcoming Canada’s two year chairmanship, Canadian Conservative MP Leona Aglukkaq, who represents the riding of Nunavut and is the first Inuk in Canadian political history to gain Cabinet office said, “Canada is honoured to assume the Chairmanship of the Council. The theme for Canada’s Chairmanship is Development for the People of the North.”
More about Arctic council, Kiruna Declaration, John kerry, john kerry secretary of state, Arctic conservation
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