Alaska readies for U.S. to take chair of Arctic Council in 2015

America’s Arctic representatives shared some of the federal plans for the U.S. chairmanship of the Arctic Council set to begin in 2015.

The federal delegation held several meetings throughout Alaska to share the plans and get feedback.

“Alaskans need to inform possibilities for our chairmanship,” Balton told more than two dozen people gathered for a business-focused roundtable in Anchorage Aug. 14.

The tentative branding of America’s chairmanship is “One Arctic: Past, Present and Future,” said U.S. Ambassador David Balton, the deputy assistant secretary for oceans and fisheries.

America will chair the council from 2015 to 2017. The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum with eight member nations, as well as permanent representation of several indigenous groups.

Leaders are still deciding what the focus will be, but the U.S. will look to continue work studying Arctic living conditions in the circumpolar north and address social issues, such as health, sanitation, clean water and renewable energy, Balton said.

He also mentioned the need to better understand oceans in the far north, in part to facilitate safe and reliable shipping, as another focus.

Senior Arctic Official Julie Gourley also noted the U.S. will continue Canada’s work on mental wellness and language preservation. Canada also started an Arctic Economic Council, which will continue to be a focus, she said.

Gourley said the U.S. will also look to bring about more telecommunications discussions, including a report on Arctic telecom currently being drafted.

Although the political climate will dictate what is possible, the U.S. could also look to develop some agreements among the Arctic Council nations on timely issues — such as climate change, Gourley said.

During its chairmanship, the U.S. will host about 20 meetings, most of which will be in Alaska, Gourley said. A few will also be held Outside to showcase the Arctic and help educate other Americans about the country’s status as an Arctic nation, she said.

At the same time, the U.S. will also take chairmanship of the Sustainable Development Working Group, which is focused primarily on indigenous issues. That group will likely have four meetings during the chairmanship, with all held in Alaska, she said.

In 2016, the U.S. will host events surrounding the 20th anniversary of the Arctic Council, and in 2017, the country will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Alaska purchase.

America’s political calendar affects some of the planning. Typically, Balton said, the biggest meeting is the final one a country hosts. That will fall in Anchorage in spring 2017, however, the presidential administration will have changed. So the current administration is considering a large 2016 meeting as well.

Business leaders listed their priorities at the Aug. 14 discussion, with the importance of Arctic transportation and navigation coming up continually.

Northrim Bank’s Larry Cooper also asked that the federal leaders continue to keep Alaskans, and the business community, involved.

“We prefer that things be done with us and not to us,” Cooper said.

U.S. Special Representative for the Arctic Admiral Robet Papp told the business leaders that he is also interested in seeing how to encourage public-private partnerships for Arctic development.

Janet Reiser, from The Aleut Corp., asked the Arctic delegation to consider the impacts that increased shipping will have in the Aleutians, as well as in Bering Strait and North Slope communities.

Vitus Energy CEO Mark Smith that mapping of Arctic coastlines will aid in transportation and make it safer.

Others also mentioned the need for food production and workforce development in the Arctic.

During a listening session geared toward the general public, also held Aug. 14, several mentioned the need for more research funding in the Arctic as well as work to protect subsistence resources.

Bering Straits Native Corp.’s Matt Ganley said energy should also be a focus.

“Cracking the nut of the energy concerns is really tough,” Ganley said.

08/21/2014 - 8:42am