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The Far North is receiving growing attention from world powers as leaders convened in Finland last week for the annual Arctic Council meeting. Climate change presents a considerable dilemma to Arctic residents and could drastically change the geopolitics of the region. There are growing security concerns across the region as melting ice opens new trade routes – and strong interest from nations as far away as Singapore.
At last week’s meeting, the United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo boldly claimed that receding ice would give more business opportunities for US companies. Despite judges blocking the US administration’s plans to expand Arctic drilling, a push to develop their presence in the region has increased tensions between major players in the Arctic. US diplomats argue that receding ice is an opportunity to mine new minerals, agreeing with the Russian government but at odds with most out of step with the rest of the world.
Many jumped on the tone-deaf comments to point out the disastrous impacts of climate change for communities in the Arctic and around the world. In his statement, Secretary Pompero remarked that ‘America is the world’s leader in caring for the environment’. This despite the country’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and repeated claims by senior officials in the US government that climate change is a hoax – including voting down an agreement at the Arctic Council meeting because it used the words “climate change“.
The plans for more Arctic drilling are dividing indigenous Alaskans, many of whom are desperate for more economic opportunities but also fear the environmental consequences. Many remote communities have been abandoned by the Federal government and there is a need for better infrastructure and high-speed communications. Meanwhile, some Russian towns have suffered from increased invasions by hungry polar bears into urban areas, as climate change impacts their natural habitat pushing them onto new ground.
The effects of warming in the Arctic do not stay in the Arctic, causing trillions of dollars in damage around the world. For islands worldwide, this can have existential implications. As Seychelles Ambassador Ronald Jumeau said at a recent meeting in Norway: “What is the link between arctic areas and tropical islands? When you melt, we drown!”
The frontlines of climate change might have vastly different temperatures, but it is true that the Arctic and small island developing states (SIDS) have a lot in common. Increased exchange and sharing indigenous knowledge between the region could be an opportunity to strengthen these seemingly distant areas, but at the very least improving understanding of affairs between SIDS and the Far North would be beneficial in the fight against climate change.
Island Innovation is a social enterprise and digital media company at the intersection of sustainable development and communications, offering specialised services across various sectors. We bring together the private sector, government, utilities, NGOs and universities to advance innovation for sustainability and prosperity in islands worldwide.