As the U.S. prepares for its two-year turn at chairing the council of nations with Arctic territory, the State Department’s special representative for the Arctic, retired Coast Guard Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., admits that this country is behind in its preparations for a melting Arctic.
The U.S. is an Arctic nation because of Alaska, which was purchased from Russia in 1867. The eight-country Arctic Council was established to promote cooperation and coordination among them, indigenous groups and other Arctic inhabitants. The council’s primary focus is on environmental protection and sustainable development of the region.
The U.S. last chaired the council 15 years ago, and since then a lot has changed in the region. A rapidly warming Arctic climate has melted sea ice, making way for increased maritime traffic and greater human activity in previously inaccessible areas.
Some countries on the council have alreadybegun to react and plan. Norway has established cities along its Arctic coast, and Russia is modernizing airports and building railway lines in anticipation of increased human activity along The Northern Sea Route.
“I think we have the opportunity to get caught up, but it’s going to require commitment from the entire government, and the state of Alaska, and industry that wants to develop in the Arctic waters. It’s going to take a combination of all of the above,” Papp said by phone last week after a morning address at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., on the future of U.S. policy for the Arctic.