US conservation groups advise Obama on the Arctic

The US should halt all Arctic industrial development until an international agreement can be reached, a coalition of 28 US conservation groups…

The US should halt all Arctic industrial development until an international agreement can be reached, a coalition of 28 US conservation groups advised the incoming Barack Obama administration.

The recommendation came as part of a 391-page report prepared for the president-elect by a group that included Greenpeace, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the World Wildlife Fund.

“Governance of human activities in the Arctic Ocean is fragmented and weak,” said the report.

“The new administration should take the lead in proposing the adoption of a new framework environmental convention that would implement an integrated, ecosystem-based management approach to managing new and expanded industrial activity in the Arctic,” it said.

Until that convention can be reached, the US should signal its commitment to the Arctic by immediately halting all expansion of fishing, shipping, mining and oil and gas development.

“When we’re looking at how to act in the Arctic, it’s important that it’s not just one country, but each of the Arctic countries working closely to try to ensure that protection is there and that we understand what the eocsystem is before we take action to change it too dramatically,” said Eric Jorgensen of Earthjustice, who prepared the report’s Arctic portion.

Hopes were high for the Arctic policy of either an Obama or a McCain administration. Both candidates did not support drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and both had recognized the need for international co-operation on climate change issues.

Barely a month after his 2001 inauguration, US President George W. Bush called for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

In the Obama administration’s first 100 days, a high-level delegation should be sent to the April, 2009, meeting of the Arctic Council in Washington, DC, says the report.

“The longer the delay in developing international environmental rules, the more likely it is that unplanned and unregulated development will damage the ecology and marine resources necessary for a sustainable future in the Arctic,” said the report.

It noted scientists believed the Arctic could be ice-free during the summer as early as 2013 — one year after the end of Obama’s first term.

As sea ice vanishes, the Arctic has become a region of political and environmental contention.

In the summer of 2007, a Russian submarine placed its national flag on the ocean floor at the North pole as a symbol of Moscow’s territorial claims over the Arctic.

Barely a month earlier, Canada had announced construction of up to eight new Arctic patrol ships to be based at a deep-water port in the far North.

“Canada has a choice when it comes to defending our sovereignty over the Arctic. We either use it or lose it,” Harper said in 2007.

“We have to recognize the fact that there are national boundaries and domestic interests in the Arctic already, but I think it’s important that we act quickly to understand what’s happening and develop a plan for the Arctic,” said Jorgensen.

Contact Tristin Hopper at

tristinh@yukon-news.com