Yesterday, I joined Secretary Clinton representing the United States at the 7th Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council. Representatives of the eight Arctic countries and of Arctic indigenous groups met in Nuuk, Greenland, for the most momentous meeting of the Council since its founding in 1996. With the impacts of climate change and increased human activity being felt throughout the region, the Arctic Council is ever more central to cooperation in this important region. With the actions taken there yesterday, the Council is better prepared for the future.
Secretary Clinton, the first U.S. Secretary of State to attend a meeting of the Arctic Council, joined the representatives of Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden in signing a landmark Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement. As more ships and airplanes travel in and through the Arctic, this agreement provides a foundation for the cooperation necessary to save lives in this remote and rugged region.
The foreign ministers joined together in announcing a decision to establish a secretariat in Tromso, Norway, to support the work of the Arctic Council. The secretariat will be up and running by 2013, which will be of great benefit to the United States when it assumes the Chairmanship of the Council from 2015 to 2017.
Secretary Clinton and others received the report, Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost of the Arctic, yesterday that predicts the sea level will rise by 0.9 to 1.6 meters (roughly 3 to 5 feet) by 2100, and that Arctic ice loss will make a substantial contribution to that rise. U.S. scientists are collaborating with their international counterparts through the Arctic Council to improve our understanding of this and many other changes facing the region.
The startling news about sea-level rise reinforces how important it is to address climate change in the Arctic immediately. The United States led an effort with Norway to find actions Arctic countries can take now to slow Arctic climate change. Their work initially focused on the warming effects of black carbon, or soot, in the Arctic. Their efforts have made the Arctic Council an acknowledged leader in both the science and policy areas related to black carbon. Because black carbon stays in the atmosphere for a short period of time before settling on the snow and ice and accelerating warming, any actions we take now to reduce black carbon can yield immediate climate benefits. Secretary Clinton strongly encouraged the other Arctic countries to join the United States in acting on the recommendations contained in this report on Short-Lived Climate Forcers (SLCFs) such as black carbon. (You can view the full report here.) Methane also has a dramatic warming effect on the Arctic, and the United States is urging those Arctic countries that are not part of the Global Methane Initiative to join us in that important climate initiative.
In addition to the work of the Arctic Council on black carbon and methane, the United States is taking action domestically and urging international action on another SLCF: hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). We hope that yesterday's decisions of the Arctic Council will accelerate and encourage further reductions of this SLCF.
Yesterday marked the start of the two-year Swedish Chairmanship of the Arctic Council. The Council will soon begin discussions on the U.S. proposal to develop an international instrument on oil spill preparedness and response. The Arctic is a region rich in hydrocarbons, and projections are that the transport of oil along Arctic sea lanes will increase markedly in coming years. In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, we all recognize that greater attention must be paid to oil spill prevention, preparedness and response, especially in an environment as remote, challenging, and fragile as that of the Arctic. The United States looks forward to co-chairing the task force that will help us safeguard this unique environment.
With the Arctic Council's many accomplishments over the past two years and with the many initiatives announced yesterday, the United States believes the Council is in an excellent position to respond to the many new opportunities and challenges facing the region. We left Nuuk tired from a hectic day and a half, but deeply satisfied with the results achieved.