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.
Trump backs US out of Paris Agreement
To international criticism from political and business leaders alike, on Thursday, President Trump made the official announcement that the US is to back out of the “very unfair” Paris Agreement, citing concerns over sovereignty (CBC). While Trump said that he would be interested in negotiating a new agreement “on terms that are more fair” to the US, under the terms of the current agreement, formally withdrawing will take up to 3 years: just in time for the next election cycle (LA Times, CBC).
TAKE 1: What does this mean for US climate policy in the Arctic? While the Trump administration is yet to formalize its Arctic policy, at the Arctic Council ministerial meeting last month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signed the Fairbanks Declaration, a document that emphasizes the need for international action on climate change (Reuters). While the decision on Paris does not necessarily predict a trajectory the US might take in the Arctic specifically, disagreement from cabinet members like Tillerson, who reportedly urged the president to stay in the agreement to avoid creating diplomatic rifts (CNN), suggests that there could be some room to pressure the US. Nevertheless, expect a policy that foregrounds US interests: especially economic ones.
Mayors of Arctic cities sign declaration to cooperate
While the spotlight was on the Arctic Council ministerial meeting that took place in Fairbanks on May 11th, mayors from cities across the circumpolar region were having a meeting of their own that was all about collaboration and cooperation (NN). The mayors of 11 cities such as Nome, Rovaniemi, Akureyri, and Iqualuit signed a declaration for a “locally-driven future for Arctic governance” (TAJ)*.
TAKE 2: While the Arctic is an inherently international and global region, there’s also a huge amount of diversity from place to place that local people are often the most knowledgeable about. And, as the declaration recognizes, there are some region-wide policy areas, such as environmental issues, that require action at the local level. Bringing together local communities from all across the Arctic will make it easier to work together to enhance local leadership: something that too often gets drowned out in big international meetings.
Russia and Norway team up in joint exercise
On May 29th began the annual Russian-Norwegian search-and-rescue drill called Exercise Barents. The exercise, which takes place in the Barents Sea and has been running since 1995, is meant to train for emergency preparedness as well as international diplomacy and information-sharing, and while in previous years it’s been Russia’s Coast Guard and civilian rescue services that have been involved, this year, the Northern Fleet was much more involved, which the Norwegians view as being “positive” and a sign that “there is a flexibility in the system” (TAJ, IBO, Arctic.ru)*.
TAKE 3: These are interesting times in Norwegian-Russian relations. The three-day long Exercise Barents, which went off without a hitch, is in the midst of a period that is both somewhat tense (with occasional pointed military demonstrations of strength) as well as highly cooperative (especially in terms of economics). This most recent exercise shows that not only is Arctic cooperation possible, it’s also far more in everyone’s best interests: political hot air notwithstanding.
International effort to enhance Arctic weather prediction, and timing couldn’t be better
Coinciding with Finland’s focus on meteorology as part of its Arctic Council chairmanship, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) will be putting extra emphasis on predicting Arctic weather, climate, and ice as part of its “Year of Polar Weather Prediction” (NN). The international initiative, which will run for two years, will involve activities such as increasing routine observations and installing new weather stations (IBO).
TAKE 4: For regions of the planet that are already changing so rapidly, there is relatively little data for scientists to go off of to understand what is happening and why, and the WMO initiative speaks to the importance of filling in these gaps. Not only is this important for weather prediction in all corners of the globe and having better data to put into climate models, but also, it’s a matter of human safety. With shipping routes and resources alike becoming more accessible, more activity in the Arctic means that it’s even more important to accurately know what’s happening weather-wise (IBO).
US icebreaker Healy to sail the high Arctic seas for research
Filled to the brim with scientists, US Coast Guard icebreaker Healy is getting ready to embark on a 4-month research mission to the Arctic in June. At 20 years old, the icebreaker is the Coast Guard’s youngest and most technologically advanced of the two that are in operation, and while its main purpose this summer is for scientific support, it can do other tasks as needed such as law enforcement (King 5).
TAKE 5: With President Trump announcing last week plans to build more icebreakers, the dire state of the US fleet seems to finally be getting some much-needed attention: if only for trying to keep up with Russia. But icebreakers are of invaluable service to scientists, too, as they can access remote areas to undertake activities like data collection and mapping the sea floor. Unfortunately, while new icebreakers could help the scientific cause in, say, measuring sea ice, they won’t make up for the types of data foregone by the impending discontinuation of the US Arctic satellite monitoring program (Arctic Deeply).
* The Arctic Journal (TAJ) went offline in June 2017.