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Vol. 15, No. 15 Week of April 11, 2010
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

Hillary Clinton spreads Arctic chill

Rebukes Canada for leaving 3 countries off summit invitation list at time when ‘we need all hands on deck’; ice return seen as blip

Gary Park

For Petroleum News

Arctic sea ice has returned to average 1979-2000 levels for the first time in a decade after years of alarming shrinkage, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo.

The expansion at a time of year when ice is normally melting was accompanied by a severe chill emanating from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she left a summit of Arctic coastal countries in Gatineau, Quebec.

She delivered what was characterized as a “smack-down” to Canada for not extending summit invitations to all of those with “legitimate interests in the region.”

And she hammered home the rebuke by shunning a news conference that ended the one-day meeting of foreign ministers from the U.S., Canada, Russia, Norway and Denmark.

In Clinton’s view, Sweden, Finland and Iceland — all members of the eight-nation Arctic Council along with Inuit indigenous groups — and the region’s indigenous peoples should have participated in the discussions.

“I hope the Arctic will always showcase our ability to work together, not create new divisions,” she said. “We need to have all hands on deck because there is a huge amount to do and not much time to do it.

“What happens in the Arctic will have broad consequences of the earth and its climate. The melting of sea ice, glaciers and permafrost will affect people and ecosystems around the world,” Clinton said.

“Understanding how these changes fit together is a task that demands international cooperation.”

Shoreline state solidarity

Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said the summit was intended to build solidarity among the five shoreline states and underscore their “unique” position as chief guardian’s of the region’s environment.

The tensions among the Group of Five were evident prior to the summit when Norway’s Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store, who said Russia is “not yet a stable, reliable, predictable state,” while stressing Norway’s desire to build a trusting, cooperative relationship with Russia on Arctic issues.

He said it was “unhelpful” that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev recently declared it “absolutely inadmissible” for other countries to try to “limit Russia’s access” to northern resources.

Medvedev’s remarks were interpreted as a poke at European Union efforts to become a bigger player in setting environmental regulations in Arctic waters as melting sea ice opened the way to increased northern shipping and petroleum exploration.

Store said that, unlike Canada’s “well-managed” Arctic territorial disputes with Denmark and the United States, Norway was trying to resolve a boundary dispute in a potentially oil-rich portion of the Barents Sea with Russia, when that country was still grappling with its transition from a totalitarian state to a democratic nation.

He mused that some experts say Russia is “lost in transition.”

But, like Clinton, Store acknowledged it was “not a good thing” to exclude Sweden, Finland and Iceland from the talks, although he argued the five participants have a special geographic status.

Protestors oppose drilling

Protesters from various organizations, including Greenpeace, urged participants in the summit to avoid a scramble to launch offshore drilling, arguing Arctic mineral resources should remain untouched.

Michael Byers, a professor of politics at the University of British Columbia, said the “three worst emitters of carbon dioxide on the planet — the United States, Canada and Russia — are around the table talking about a region of the world that is at the epicenter of climate change impact.”

The summit reached no significant agreements, with participants confining themselves to discussing “issues that relate to the continental mapping that fall under the United Nations Convention Law of the Seas.”

That extended to talk about creating mandatory shipping regulations, settling maritime boundaries, establishing search and rescue protocols and negotiating territorial disputes in the Beaufort Sea and Barents Sea.

Meanwhile, the Colorado snow and ice data center, which publishes monthly sea-ice updates, does not view the sea ice comeback as “the end of global warming,” said spokesman Mark Serreze.

He said a few weeks of cold weather in one part of the Arctic had distorted the overall numbers.

Serreze said “all of the action is in the Bering Sea … (causing) a late spurt in ice growth,” while the rest of the Arctic Ocean is experiencing “very warm” temperatures.

He also cautioned that satellite data used to develop the center’s information offers no information on ice thickness, suggesting most of the recent Bering Sea ice is likely very thin and won’t last.

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