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Sustainable Future for Arctic people?

Tromso campus

Tromso campus

It has been a full day at Arctic Frontiers. This was day one of the two-day political segment (science follows from Wednesday). The main message seems to be that Arctic development is going full speed ahead. The Arctic Council (currently chaired by Canada) snd Arctic states will have their hands full in the years to come, coordinating that development and trying to make it sustainable and of benefit to the people of the High North. “Humans in the Arctic” is a very apt theme.

My impression after today’s events is that Sami and other indigenous people still feel a little out in the cold as the planet warms, the ice melts fast and development speeds up.

Sami Parliament President

Sami Parliament President Ailei Keskitalo

Aili Keskitalo President of the Norwegian Sami Parliament (and first female President of any Sami parliament) stressed in her opening address that the changes in the Arctic are clearly impacting living conditions for people in the High North. She mentioned health concerns influenced by climatic change, the accumulation of environmental toxins in food, changes in lievelihoods through new industries, pressure on traditional cultures having an impact on mental health. As indigenous peoples often live close to nature, they are in the front line of climatic change. Traditional industries like fishing, trapping, reindeer husbandry and strong ties to the landscape, imply additional vulnerability to industrial encroachment and other developments, she stressed.

Clearly, mining, oil exploration and the changes that come with them are a huge challenges for indigenous peoples. Challenges and opportunities were buzzwords in today’s sessions. How to help traditional indigenous communities benefit from the “opportunities” of development? Keskitalo stressed the need to respect the human rights of these communities when developing natural resources and changing the environment.

Other high-profile speakers (some more high profile than others – an indication of the priority allocated to the meeting by different Arctic states?) certainly went on a lot about opportunities and making sure the people of the High North get the benefit. But I couldn’t help wondering how much was lip service. This was backed up by informal chats with people in the breaks and some of the questions from the floor. But the proof of the pudding will be in the eating…

Shipping is on the increase in the Arctic region

Tromso: Shipping is on the increase in the Arctic region

It was only in the final session of the day, a panel debate on the Northern Shipping Route, that an ngo representative, Nina Jensen, CEO of WWF Norge, was on the podium. I seem to remember more ngo active participation in earlier years. At that point in the meeting there was finally talk of dangers for rare species,  black carbon increase, additional pollution from shipping through grey water, sewage, the danger of a spill of heavy fuel oil, invasive species in ballast water and such like. Yes, climate change-induced Arctic development brings with it not only opportunities but also risks and threats.

The debate was conducted mainly between Nina Jensen and Felix Tschudi, the Chairman of Tschudi Group shipping company, who was putting the industry point of view. Needless to say the two had differing opinions  before, during and at the end of the debate. It would be surprising otherwise. It was mentioned during the day that the Polar Code negotiations might be successfully concluded in London this week. That, says Jensen, would be an important first step. But it would not solve all the problems.

This is a debate which will continue tomorrow – and, I have no doubt, well after the end of Arctic Frontiers. How compatible are economic development, environmental protection and the health and traditional cultures of indigenous groups in the Arctic?

 

Date

January 21, 2014 | 6:28 am

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Climate change and the polar vortex

Frozen Waves, Chukchi Sea, Barrow, Alaska


(Chukchi Sea, Barrow, Alaska. Pic: I Quaile)

If you live in one of the North American areas hit by the latest big freeze, you may well have been hearing someone say “so much for global warming” over the last week or so. If you live on this side of the Atlantic, you might have been tempted to worry more about climate change if you were being battered by storms or gales. Then there are those here in Germany saying “give me more of this warming”, with the birds tweeting and the bushes blooming as if we were already in the middle of spring.

Date

January 10, 2014 | 3:28 pm

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Santa in distress in a melting Arctic

 

Beautiful but on the endangered list

Not too stable for elves or reindeer! (Photo I. Quaile)

As I was floating around our local swimming pool to the sound of “Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer” last night, the thought of reindeer in water took my thoughts up north. Poor old Santa must be having a worrying time. Snow and sleighs are the basis of his business. If anybody has to be concerned about what climate change is doing to the Arctic, it has to be Santa. His snowy wonderland is melting twice or even three times as fast as the rest of the planet. Reindeer are threatened by climate change, a new report confirms.

Maybe he is already thinking about some alternative transport. Marine animals to get across an increasingly watery north?  Walruses? Whales? Dolphins? But he’d have problems putting them out the back to graze while he distributes the presents and sips his sherry. And in the long-term their food sources could be increasingly problematic with ocean acidification threatening so many species. A hi-tech climate-neutral alternative like the solar plane? Not much good at night. And not nearly as much fun as reindeer.

Then come the territorial disputes, with Canada and Russia arguing over who owns the North Pole. Santa would not want to be caught in the crossfire. And landing on rooftops is becoming increasingly hazardous. Does it count as hooliganism?

Svalbard reindeer, Ny Alesund

Love those Svalbard reindeer! (Photo I.Quaile)

His Russian partner “Father Frost” (aka Grandfather Frost or Jack) must be getting a bit worried as well.  He’s said to be building a giant freezer to keep Siberia cool –  powered presumably with oil and gas from the Arctic.

I’m not the only one to be concerned. Greenpeace have come up with a “Save Santa’s Home” campaign, and a whole set of electronic Christmas cards drawing attention to the plight of our jovial white-bearded gift-bringer. And if you haven’t seen Santa’s Message on video, have a look. And remember we British have a tongue-in-cheek kind of sense of humour. CNN missed that, I think, when they broadcast their own story about the video (although it is not without a sliver of its own biting wit). Reporter Jeanne Moos reminds Santa that “An organisation of climate change sceptics” is talking about “recovering Arctic ice”.  The “other side” does (in the interests of unbiased journalism no doubt ;-) ? get quoted in the report. Moos talks about  ”those who believe in global warming” as if the majority who accept the findings of something like 99% of scientists, the UN, the IPCC… belonged to a weird sect.

switzerland iqSanta, I’m with you and all those who are interested in protecting the Arctic from climate change and pollution. Rudolph, Dancer, Prancer and the rest of you guys – keep up the good work. You make millions of kids (and a lot of grown ups) happy every Christmas. Here’s hoping the world will take some steps in 2014 that will preserve your frozen north home for generations to come.

Merry Christmas everybody! The iceblogger will be back in January 2014. Keep your eye out for the odd tweet @iceblogger

Date

December 20, 2013 | 12:57 pm

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Canada and Russia rippling muscles in the Arctic

Undermining Arctic security? (Photo: I.Quaile, Greenland)

Undermining Arctic security? (Photo: I.Quaile, Greenland)

Enjoying my morning tea the other day, my attention was caught by an Arctic headline in our local newspaper. When the Arctic makes its way into a publication I read rather for its regional flavour than international current affairs, I get the feeling there are certainly things afoot. Or is it just that stories involving Russia and any possible military conflict appeal to the public at the moment? The story was the latest sabre-rattling by Vladimir Putin, saying Russia would be stepping up its military presence in the Arctic to defend the country’s geopolitical interests.

The Kremlin chief has been turning into a bit of a public enemy number one here, with the arrest of the “Arctic 30″ and refusal to comply with the international maritime tribunal, the pressure on the Ukraine to keep away from the EU and the publicity of the treatment of homosexuals in the run-up to the winter Olympics. Now the big, bad Russians are sending soldiers up to the North Pole, that iconic supposedly untouched frozen waste at the top of the planet, which belongs to no country. Not so far anyway.

We remember how a Russian submarine planted its flag on the seabed under the North Pole in 2007. Back in 2001 Russia submitted a claim to extend its nautical borders to the UN commission on the limits of its continental shelf. In the meantime, the rapidly warming climate has increased the international race to get at Arctic resources and develop an infrastructure to profit from increased shipping through the area.

I do find it a matter of concern that Russia is re-opening military bases in the Arctic and has sent warships up there for the first time in more than 20 years. Luke Harding in the Guardian links Russia’s renewed interest in the region directly to Putin’s ascent to the Kremlin in 2000. In contrast to the policies under Dmitry Medvedev, “Putin’s Arctic rhetoric has been hawkish”, Harding writes. The same can be said of Canada’s conservative prime minister Stephen Harper. Canada has just submitted its claim to the UN Commission and says it will actually be laying claim to the North Pole soon. As current chair of the Arctic Council, Canada has been stressing the need to develop the region. This week I talked to a Canadian colleague, who was flabbergasted by the latest Canadian antics concerning the High North. His scepticism was based on what he sees as a huge discrepancy between the might of Putin’s Russia and a Canada with limited military resources.iq greenland

iq greenlandLet us hope that military power is not what will decide the struggle for the North Pole and the Arctic in general. If the countries put as much effort into reducing emissions and developing climate-friendly technologies as into military developments – and I am thinking of political rhetoric and pr as much as actual spending – the Arctic might be able to continue to be the remote, frozen area at the top of the world with its unique ecosystems preserved for future generations.iq greenland

 

Date

December 13, 2013 | 3:53 pm

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“On Thin Ice” at Warsaw climate talks

Walking on thin ice, Chukchi Sea, Alaska, 2008 (Pic: I Quaile)

Did you know it was the “Day of the Cryosphere” at the Warsaw climate talks COP 19 in Warsaw yesterday? If not, you might be forgiven. I haven’t seen it making the headlines in the mainstream media. That is a pity, given that what climate change is doing to our ice, snow and permafrost has repercussions for the whole planet.

Date

November 18, 2013 | 3:35 pm

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