Greater accessibility to the Arctic and its resources caused by increasing rates of ice-melt and by the accelerating pace of climate change presents a host of new opportunities and challenges for the scientific, business, government, and native communities of the Arctic.

This past December, the Carnegie Endowment in conjunction with Dartmouth College, and the University of the Arctic brought together business leaders, scientists, diplomats, and Arctic experts for a conference on this changing landscape. 

The Conference’s report was presented at a Roundtable organized by the Carnegie Endowment. Julia Gourley, U.S. Senior Arctic Official at the Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs in the U.S. State Department, served as commentator while Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental Scientific Affairs, David Balton, spoke about the future of Arctic policy in the Obama Administration. 

Four panels addressed the fundamental issues surrounding the Arctic today- Science and Policy, Economics, Resources and Development, Political and Security Issues, and Governance and Institutions. Panelists included Dartmouth Professors, Ross Virginia and William Wohlforth, and Ray Arnaudo from the Department of Policy Planning at the U.S. State Department. Carnegie’s James F. Collins and Dartmouth’s Kenneth Yalowitz chaired the discussions.

Conclusions of the panels included:

Science and Policy

  • The accelerating pace of climate change has created a greater urgency to bring the science and policy communities together to address climate challenges.
  • Reducing short-lived pollutants, especially black carbon, can still help mitigate the pace of climate change.
  • The international community needs to continue its support of scientific cooperation programs like the Arctic Council’s Sustaining Arctic Observing Networks.

Economics, Resources and Development

  • Conflict over resources and boundaries is unlikely because most affected areas are subject to Law of the Sea norms.
  • The International Maritime Organization is an important mechanism to increase cooperation between nations on shipping in the Arctic.
  • The decreased pace of development in the Arctic brought on by the economic crisis should be used by governments to resolve existing disputes and governance issues.
Political and Security Issues 
  • Militarized conflict over the Arctic is unlikely, and regional disputes are unlikely to cause an overall deterioration in relations between or among polar nations.
  • Security issues should not be sensationalized in order to attract attention towards the Arctic.

Governance and Institutions

  • Management of the Arctic is being reintegrated through intergovernmental bodies such as the Arctic Council following decades of competition during the Cold War for control of the region. 
  • Options for better management include:
  1. To create a new comprehensive treaty, similar to the Antarctic Treaty, that would expand freedom of scientific research and demilitarize the region;
  2. Ecologically-based management, including the use of commons;
  3. Modification of the Arctic Council to allow it to better respond to current threats. This includes creating a permanent Arctic Council secretariat. 
Arctic Policy and the Obama Administration
Balton explained that the Obama Administration will likely use the National and Homeland Security Presidential Directive on the Arctic, the first comprehensive review of Arctic policy by the U.S. executive branch since 1994, that was signed by President George W. Bush in January of this year.  While, the Obama Administration is likely to carry out this directive, Balton who largely wrote the document, explained that several of the key individuals responsible for its implementation have not yet been appointed. 
Among the suggestions he offered for going forward, he included:  
  • The United States should ratify the Law of the Seas Convention for several important reasons, including legally attaining sovereign rights to territories 200 nautical miles from the U.S.’ continental shelf.
  • Within the Arctic new rules should be established for search and rescue, shipping, environmental protection, and fishing.
  • The U.S. is open to the idea of modifying the Arctic Council.
  • Arctic cooperation can be increased between the United States and Russia.