Climate change progress at Arctic Council’s first meeting with US chair

Arctic Council Gavel
The gavel the chairman of Senior Arctic Officials at Arctic Council meetings uses. The gavel was presented at a dinner to celebrate Canada’s second chairmanship of the Arctic Council, 2013 to 2015. (Photo by Linnea Nordström/Arctic Council Secretariat)

During the three-day meeting of the international Arctic Council that wrapped last week in Anchorage, officials made the most headway on an effort to mitigate the impacts of black carbon and methane in the Arctic. State Department deputy secretary David Balton chairs the Council’s most senior officials.

“These short-lived pollutants — black carbon and methane — cause particular climate-related problems in the Arctic,” he said.

Black carbon is particulate waste from fossil fuel combustion. Unsurprisingly, it’s black. So when it lands on snow and ice, it has a warming effect.

Surprisingly, the council’s observer states showed a strong interest in the problem — more than half submitted assessment reports of their own emissions. These are nations who do not border the Arctic, but the week’s meeting made it clear that some certainly want a stronger voice on the council.

“We did something, I believe, that has never been attempted in the history of the Arctic Council,” Balton said. “We spent a half-day with the observers at the table, hearing from them. A lot of them have been wanting to have greater engagement, greater input.”

Arctic Council Flags
The flags of the eight Arctic Council member states and six indigenous permanent participant organizations. (Photo by Linnea Nordström/Arctic Council Secretariat)

The topics they were most interested in, Balton said, were the black carbon initiative and migratory bird fly-ways.

And speaking of bigger voices on the Council, where does Alaska fit in?

There are four voices on the Council that represent indigenous peoples of Alaska. But most of the delegates representing U.S. interests are on State Department payroll in Washington, D.C.

“The federal government recognizes that we are an Arctic nation because of Alaska,” Balton said. “And we wanted to be in partnership with the state and the people of Alaska in carrying out our chairmanship.”

Before the U.S. assumed chairmanship of the Arctic Council in April, David Balton and colleagues made several trips to Alaska — sort of like scouting trips — to hear from Alaskans on what interests they had for chairmanship.

The three key objectives the U.S. decided to focus on during its Council chairmanship are improving the well-being of Arctic communities, bolstering marine stewardship in the Arctic Ocean, and addressing the impacts of climate change.

That’s a tall order.

“Everything still needs to be worked on,” Balton said. “This is a two-year process. We’re still in the early stages of it.”

Other notable outcomes of the meeting were:

The council reconvenes in six months in Fairbanks.

Site notifications
Update notification options
Subscribe to notifications