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.
Turbulence in Greenland cabinet amid foreign minister resignation
Big political waves were made in Nuuk last week as Vittus Qujaukitsoq suddenly withdrew from his post as foreign minister, saying he’ll instead challenge Kim Kielsen’s premiership as party leader of Siumut this summer (TAJ, euobserver)*. Kielsen, who has been premier since 2014, triggered Qujaukitsoq’s resignation by wanting to downgrade his portfolio to focusing on trade and industry in what some analysts have suggested was an effort to tighten the reins on party discipline (euobserver, TAJ)*. Suka K Frederiksen, who is already leading the enormous task of heading a commission to write Greenland’s first constitution, has been appointed as the new foreign minister, a role that involves, among other things, Greenland’s day-to-day relationship with Denmark (TAJ)*.
TAKE 1: The current power struggle stems from conflict over a hot topic in Greenlandic politics: independence. Greenland has home rule, but Copenhagen still controls the all-important areas of security and some aspects of international relations. Kielsen has favored a gradual approach to independence that prioritizes putting issues like unemployment and social welfare first, but this clashes with the likes of Qujaukitsoq and a faction of Siumut who want to push for it to come sooner (TAJ)*. Where Greenland is headed—and how quickly—could very well be determined by what happens at Siumut’s conference this summer.
Trump issues executive order to reopen Arctic drilling
Promising to “unleash” US energy and create “thousands and thousands” of jobs, President Trump signed an executive order last week to undo the bans placed by Obama just a few months ago on offshore drilling in the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific oceans (FOX, LA Times, VOA). Of course, this won’t take effect immediately: not by a long shot. Undoing the bans represents quite the legal challenge, and on top of that, the Obama administration made it so that it wouldn’t be possible to sell new drilling licenses for a 5-year period (TAJ)*.
TAKE 2: There are more than just legal obstacles, too. Besides opposition from environmental groups with their eye on climate change, California political leaders have vowed to fight the prospect of oil drilling off of their coastline in the courts (LA Times, The Verge). And there are economic factors, at play, too, that make it more—or less—feasible to drill in expensive and risky locales like the Arctic. Trump will need more than the help of an “invisible hand” (TAJ)*.
Report: Arctic’s climate “shifting to a new state,” but there’s still hope
A massive Arctic Council report contributed to by over 90 scientists has taken a wide, but detailed, snapshot of the Arctic’s cryosphere (aka everything that’s frozen) over a 4-year period from 2011 to 2015—and things are not looking good. Compared to a similar study published in 2011, this report, titled ‘Snow, Water, Ice, and Permafrost in the Arctic’ indicates that the Arctic’s warming is happening faster than researchers thought just 6 years ago (Reuters). An Arctic that’s warming faster than anticipated implies faster changes around the globe, too; one of the report’s findings is that with a “business-as-usual” scenario, minimum sea level rise is projected to be .74 meters (2.4 feet) by 2100, which is almost double what the IPCC estimated in 2013 (Nature, TAJ)*. The very accessibly-written 20-page summary can be downloaded here.
TAKE 3: However, the report emphasizes that we can still avoid a lot of the most dire projections if we act now. In particular, it calls for a “full implementation of the Paris COP21 Agreement,” which would get temperatures to stabilize mid-century, albeit higher than they are today (AMAP). But there’s some serious heavy lifting we have to do in the meantime in the form of cutting back greenhouse gas emissions post-haste—and calling our governments to the task.
Norway doubles estimated resources in northeastern Barents Sea
The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate just released new estimates about the amount of oil and gas reserves in the Barents Sea, and it’s quite the discovery. A recent geological survey undertaken in its region to the east of Svalbard estimates that there’s twice as much there as previously thought—to the tune of a total 2.8 billion cubic meters, give or take, of oil equivalent—and, furthermore, with twice as much potential per square kilometer in the north than in the south (HNN, TBO).
TAKE 4: Naturally, the news is joyful tidings for some, and not so much for others. In addition to environmental groups (Greenpeace, in fact, has served Norway a lawsuit over its continued oil drilling post-Paris Agreement), the Norwegian public isn’t terribly supportive of more drilling off of its northern shores (News in English). Meanwhile, with it being due to start drilling in the Barents in a few days, Statoil has been busy with reassurances that Arctic drilling isn’t so dangerous, which opponents strongly question (Reuters). Either way, more oil in the Barents means to expect a bigger fight.
Bailing out of Barneo
The annual ice camp near the North Pole has closed again for another year pretty much right on schedule. Camp organizers were planning to stay until April 24th, but had to depart in a hurry on the 21st when the ice floe that the camp was built on began to break up (TBO, Arctic.ru). This year’s highlights included a new record set at the annual North Pole Marathon and the first-ever band performance on an ice floe in the Arctic (Arctic.ru).
TAKE 5: The main purpose of the camp, however, is scientific research, and one of the things studied this year was the continuation of an 11-year effort monitoring surface-level water in the Arctic ocean which is useful in explaining the loss of sea ice over time. Scientists measured an “all-time low” for sea ice extent this February, but didn’t find evidence that the ocean was playing a role in this (Arctic.ru).
* The Arctic Journal (TAJ) went offline in June 2017.