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.
“Momentous occasion” in Yukon as First Nations and territorial government go for “government-to-government” approach to mining
In a bar-raising move, last week saw the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between 11 Yukon First Nations and the territorial government that effectively brings them together to work as one to develop the mining sector, an important part of Yukon’s economy (CBC). All parties involved sounded optimistic: Grand Chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations Peter Johnson said that he thinks it’s “going to be a leading example” for doing resource management the right way, while an industry representative called it a “momentous occasion” (Ecolog, CBC).
TAKE 1: Yukon has been a leader in Canada in the past when it comes to Indigenous governance and resource development. With the majority of land claims settled since the mid ‘90s, First Nations governments have had considerable control over whether and how to develop resources on their land. The recent MOU both legitimizes Indigenous governments even more and makes work in the mining sector less bureaucratic and more efficient. Now that’s a win-win if I ever heard one.
Norway and the EU dispute over crabs and the Svalbard Treaty
A row has broken out between Norway and the EU after the Norwegian Coast Guard arrested a Latvian fishing vessel for harvesting snow crabs in waters around the Svalbard Archipelago without Norwegian permission. The dispute revitalizes a long-standing legal issue: how should the Svalbard Treaty be interpreted (TBO, Undercurrent News)? Because they’re considered to be a “sedentary” species as they don’t travel far, under the Treaty snow crabs are regulated under the same provisions as oil and gas – even though they’re animals. The means their harvesting is inextricably tied to contentious continental shelf claims. While Svalbard is under Norwegian sovereignty, under the eponymous 1920 treaty countries that are signatories can freely engage in economic activities in the archipelago. Norway’s interpretation, which is at odds with that of the international community, has long maintained this doesn’t apply to the continental shelf and that it is under full Norwegian sovereignty.
TAKE 2: Because it was written in 1920, the treaty doesn’t exactly cover resources on the continental shelf. But as far as the international community has been concerned, it’s been an “agree to disagree” kind of thing with Norway – it just hasn’t been that big of an issue. If the EU decides to turn up the heat though, it’ll be a test of how willing Norway is to stand its ground (TBO).
Russia is on a military building spree in the Arctic
2017 will prove to be a significant year for Russia as far as Arctic military infrastructure goes. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, over 100 military facilities are set to be opened by the end of the year (Sputnik). A statement released by the Ministry indicates that the facilities will be built throughout the expanse of the Russian Arctic, including the Franz Josef Land Archipelago and Wrangnel Island and will include a new airfield in Alexandra Land (RBTH, Arctic.ru).
TAKE 3: This announcement is just the latest in a series of steps Russia is taking to safeguard its Arctic interests, which are considerable given the size and resource potential of the region. And with the ice melting fast, it’s a sure bet that the Northern Sea Route is going to get busy with traffic.
“Polar Pride” banned in Russia while Alaskan Women’s Marchers brave the cold
Last week was a big one for social activism in the Arctic. In the Arctic Circle town of Salekhard, Russia, organizers found their LGBTQI Pride parade, dubbed Polar Pride, banned by the municipal government (LGBTQ Nation). The decision echoes similar bans across the country. The bans stem from the enforcement of 2013’s “gay propaganda” law prohibiting the dissemination of information about “non-traditional” relationships — although banning Pride marches violates the Russian constitutional right to freedom of assembly (Gay Star News, LGBTQ Nation). Across the Pole, in the Alaskan cities of Kotzebue and Utqiaġvik (formerly known as Barrow), residents braved bitter cold weather to march in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington (The Arctic Sounder).
TAKE 4: While it’s not always the first thing on people’s minds when they think about the Arctic, diversity is a core characteristic of the region. And it’s only increasing, as more people from different places move there, like a refugee family from Syria coming to resettle in Iceland (Reuters).
Sea ice critical for global climate
Ed Hawkins, the climate scientist behind the viral gif animation dramatically dubbed the “Arctic Death Spiral,” has created a new graphic showing the rapid decline in Arctic sea ice (Climate Change News, Climate Change News). But why are people so worried about sea ice? A recent study from the Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3) has concluded that owing to complex feedback loops, the role of sea ice in regulating global climate is more important than previously thought. And the sooner an ice-free summer occurs, as the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report predicts will happen in 2050, the harder it will be to control climate change (Phys.org). To keep this from happening, the study recommends “more stringent mitigation efforts globally.”
TAKE 5: With the mechanisms underlying the relationship between sea ice loss and climate change so complex, the BC3 researchers are calling for more studies, a sentiment that was echoed at the recent 2017 Alaska Marine Science Symposium in Anchorage (Cordova Times). Encouraging the hall full of scientists and students to be more engaged in political discourse, the city’s mayor, Ethan Berkowitz, also emphasized that research is needed “now more than ever” (Cordova Times).