Take Five is The Arctic Institute’s news roundup that gives you everything you need to know about what’s happened in the Arctic this week. Short in length but big on insight, from politics and culture to the environment and security, we look beneath the headlines to see what’s really going on. Published each Friday, our quick and fun redux breaks down the five biggest circumpolar stories with fresh editorial analysis so you can get caught up on the region in under five minutes. Take Five means you’ll never miss a beat on what matters most.
More climate records broken in Arctic last month
This winter continues to be a warm one in the Arctic… even by last year’s record-breaking standards. In spite of a small rebound in sea ice growth in the latter part of the month, overall, January saw the lowest sea ice extent on record for the month (TAJ, Marine Link, Mashable)*. Keep in mind, with the region plunged in winter darkness, January is normally cold, so losing ice this time of year is really weird, to put it mildly. One of the big causes of this has been strong storms to the south pumping in warmer air, leading to temperatures at the North Pole soaring to just below freezing (Washington Post, TAJ)*.
TAKE 1: This escalation is, unfortunately, part of a trend: but the magnitude of the change is such that even the most “even-keeled” scientists are finding this cause for alarm (Mashable). Although a drastic reduction in CO2 emissions is the surest bet to give sea ice a fighting chance past 2030, some people are coming up with more creative approaches. A recent—if unconventional—strategy proposed by a group of Arizona scientists call for the installation of 10 million wind-powered water pumps around the Arctic to make the ice cap thicker and therefore more resistant to disintegration (IFL Science).
Trudeau signs Crown-and-Inuit partnership declaration, talks economics and environment in Arctic
Last week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made stops in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories: his first visit since his campaign tour in 2015 (CTV). The highlight of his trip was the signing of a declaration between the Crown and Inuit, which establishes a committee comprised of Inuit leaders and senior cabinet ministers. The committee will meet at least twice a year to set and monitor goals to address the needs of Inuit (CBC, CBC). This means that Inuit have a stronger voice in the federal government, and in the words of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed, “this is a huge step forward” (CBC).
TAKE 2: Don’t be fooled – the relationship between the PM and Canada’s Arctic is still fraught with disagreement (and not just because of a poor historical relationship between Indigenous peoples and the federal government). Trudeau’s recent moratorium on new oil and gas licenses in the Arctic Ocean for environmental reasons wasn’t welcomed with open arms by all. While he encourages the northern territories to open “many more doors of economic opportunity,” territorial leaders have slammed the decision as “a step backward” (CBC, CBC).
On the other hand, Russian and Norwegian Arctic oil is doing rather well
On the other side of the Arctic, Russia is having a bumper crop of oil. In 2016, production in the country’s three main oil-producing regions—Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Nenets Autonomous Okrug, and the Komi Republic—exceeded the previous year’s by 17% (TBO). Things are looking good for Norway, too, as oil companies are “taking a big interest” in licenses for its Barents Sea gas shelf. Statoil, the country’s biggest oil company, expressed a similar sentiment of optimism as it looks to invest $11 billion this year after three consecutive years of slashing (Energy Voice, Bloomberg).
TAKE 3: Amid geopolitical military tensions, Russia and Norway have been making a habit of collaboration, and not just in the oil patch (though that’s significant). Last week, the new mayor of Murmansk paid a visit to the Norwegian border town of Kirkenes, where he and his mayoral counterpart signed a letter of intention of cooperation that details a few things the cities can collaborate on for mutual benefit like tourism and business (TBO). While they are at odds on some things, Russia and Norway also have much in common — which helps stability.
Revamped US Arctic strategy draws Alaskan praise and raises Canadian and Russian eyebrows
After the release of the US Department of Defense’s revised and expanded Arctic strategy earlier this month, Alaska is feeling like it’s back on the map. Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan said of the report, “we are an Arctic nation and with this important strategy, we are starting to act like one” (NN, KTVA). One thing this boost in importance for the US foothold in the Arctic means, however, is a geopolitical adjustment for Russia and Canada: Russia with its major infrastructure and military developments and Canada with its long-standing sovereignty claim over the waters of the Northwest Passage, which the US disputes.
TAKE 4: What will this mean for relationships between the three countries? Opinions differ. While some, like Canadian political scientist Rob Huebert, take this as an indication that the US might be more forceful in asserting its interests in the future, Arctic Council chairman of Senior Arctic Officials David Bolton doesn’t see a change of policy over the next few years given the interest in keeping the Arctic “stable and peaceful” (RCI, NN).
Arctic Council studies organization of nomadic schools in Yamal
Last week, the Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG) of the Arctic Council met up in Kotzebue, Alaska, and one thing they discussed was a nomadic school project in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area in the Russian Arctic (The Arctic). The project, which has been around since 2011, is providing an education for 250 children through 17 kindergartens and 5 schools; teachers follow families as they herd reindeer through the tundra (TASS).
TAKE 5: Staying in touch with culture while being able to take advantage of opportunity, economic and otherwise, is a balancing act that many Indigenous people strike in places like the Arctic. The Yamal nomadic school project seems to be one way this can be done, especially since the schools teach standard subjects as well as local skills (TASS).
* The Arctic Journal (TAJ) went offline in June 2017.