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Melting of Arctic Isn't on Radar Screen of Arctic Council

Polar bears are drowning. Huge glaciers are melting. Low-lying cities are worried. All because of climate change. But, when the eight nations of the "Arctic Council" meet next week, climate change won't be on their agenda—despite a frightening new report on climate change by the council's own task force.

Members of the council are those nations bordering the Arctic Ocean—the United States, Russia, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Canada, Denmark and Iceland.

The council deals with crucial Arctic issues such as climate change, black carbon, oil exploration and drilling, and arctic shipping. Their report, released this week, details how global sea levels will rise at least five feet within the century in large part because of melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Nonetheless, climate change isn't an agenda item.

Black carbon, doesn’t make the cut either, even though the report outlines immediate measures that could be taken to reduce black carbon emissions, protect health (black carbon is a component of soot, a toxic air pollutant), and reduce warming and melting in the Arctic in the near term.

Here's what the council will discuss—search and rescue in the Arctic, as in who is responsible for missing ships or people. An important subject—especially as more and more ships are able to travel the Arctic waters. However, should search and rescue be the first “international binding agreement” that the council signs? It is set to be. And you can be sure that oil and gas development likewise will be considered a priority.

“Rapidly increasing warming and melting in the Arctic and the resulting catastrophic sea level rise apparently doesn’t qualify as a ‘challenge’ for the Arctic Council, but access to hydrocarbon resources apparently does,” said Earthjustice attorney Erika Rosenthal, who will be attending the meeting as a consultant with the Circumpolar Conservation Union.

We sincerely hope that the task force reports on climate change and short-lived climate forcers—which lays out measures to significantly reduce black carbon emissions in Arctic countries with existing technology—will be addressed by the Arctic Council at this ministerial. The Arctic, and the world, can’t wait another two years for Arctic nations to live up to their responsibilities and take action.

Erika will be involved in the Arctic Council ministerial meeting next week. In the meantime, Earthjustice experts have provided background papers on the following subjects:

For more information: