The Arctic is warming twice as fast the rest of the world and investment in infrastructure and research is needed if the U.S. intends to be a leader in the region.
The Joint Ocean Commission Initiative (JOCI) with the Senate Arctic Caucus held a congressional briefing, “U.S. Arctic Policy: Priorities and Opportunities,” to highlight key recommendations from JOCI’s Arctic Roundtable sessions.
Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) stressed the need to increase visibility of and support for Arctic issues. With President Obama’s visit to the Arctic in September and the U.S. assuming chairmanship of the Arctic Council, the region is finally getting the attention it deserves, however, “when we think about the infrastructure issues and the U.S. Arctic, we have a long way to go… to bridge that is making sure that we have sufficient support within out budgets.” She also urged the inclusion of local people in the discussion, “let’s not forget the indigenous scientists. Those, who live and work and raise their families in the North, who observe every day the changes that are coming in.”
Admiral Robert Papp (Special Representative for the Arctic, U.S. Department of State) highlighted the consequences of a changing climate on the Arctic. The Arctic, which is mostly a maritime domain, did not receive much attention to date because it is frozen. However, scientists expect the transpolar route to be viable for shipping by mid-century and it will be highly profitable to take the transpolar route ( travel time from the Americas to Asia would be cut by 8-10 days). Yet the region will need major investment in infrastructure before it can be used as a major shipping route. Today, there is a lack of deep ports suitable for large ships, an appropriate telecommunication system, or even adequate maps. In addition, increased traffic means increased risk of accidents, especially in the narrow Bering Strait, where all ships will converge. Papp said, “we have a vast new expansive waters opening up for our country. We have a responsibility as a nation to provide for the safety and security of the mariners that are going to go through there.”
Norman Mineta (Co-Chair of the JOCI Leadership Council) reminded participants to weigh economic interests against environmental impact in order to improve the livelihood of the people in the Arctic. Former Congressman Norman Dicks (Senior Policy Advisor, Van Ness Feldman) stated the importance of investing in research now to monitor changes in the Arctic environment to inform future policies on fisheries, shipping, search and rescue, and adaptation. Sherri Goodman (President, Consortium for Ocean Leadership) spoke of the changing geopolitical environment. “The Arctic becoming a major global transshipment point… within our lifetime… will be significant economically, militarily, and environmentally.” She emphasized that to be able to operate in the Arctic in the coming years, investments are needed to create a maritime domain awareness comparable to that of other parts of the world.
To keep Arctic issues on the political agenda, JOCI (along with stakeholders) is developing an Ocean Action Agenda to deliver to the current leaders and those taking office after the 2016 elections. Priorities include increased resources for and attention to climate change adaptation; investment in Arctic infrastructure and research; enhancement of international cooperation; and securing long-term funding for existing Arctic initiatives and improving regulatory and decision-making processes.