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The Arctic is a Critical Foreign Policy Issue

GB Geo-Blog

The Arctic is a Critical Foreign Policy Issue

I have always personally had a fascination with the North. The Arctic itself is vast landscape of stark beauty well known for its harsh climate. It is a place where relatively few live, but it has been the home to Indigenous groups for a millennium. Despite its cruel exterior, it is rich with wildlife: the polar bears, seals, and narwhal that have captured the hearts and imaginations of those of us who live in the South.

But this historically desolate place that has lead many a foreign explorer to a grizzly end, is becoming increasingly influenced by the presence of outsiders, and great changes are appearing over the horizon. As the Earth’s climate changes, its effects are most prevalent in the Arctic. The annual summer sea ice melt has accelerated in startling ways. For the Inuit, the sea ice is a keystone to their culture and they rely upon it for their livelihoods. As the quality and quantity of the ice is transformed, they must adapt quickly and bear first witness to the consequences of the warming that will eventually affect us all.

At the same time, there is an urgent need to decide how to govern this space. There are disputes over boundaries to resolve, but the warming temperatures are also granting us access to great storehouses of natural resources: oil, gas, and minerals. In an earlier issue of Global Brief, Dan Hurley and I (here) explored the idea of network governance as a means of governing the Arctic in a cooperative manner, and on multiple levels. To a certain extent, this process has already begun. The Arctic Council which was established in 1996 with the signing of the Ottawa Declaration, is a multilateral forum made up of eight Arctic states, along with six permanent members representing Indigenous groups.

This past week, I traveled to Toronto for the Canadian launch of the Aspen Institute’s Commission on Climate Change in the Arctic (here). I was there participating in a panel discussion hosted by both the University of Winnipeg and the Walter & Duncan Gordon Foundation on the findings of the report and the recommendations listed within. Of note, the report highlights the important role that the Arctic Council can play a significant role in bridging common interests and in mediating commonly-beneficial agreements on the issue of governance. For example, this May, member states of the Council will be signing an agreement which will coordinate search and rescue operations in the north. This is a big step forward toward a future of Arctic governance based on networks which include stakeholders at every level.

To date there has been little discussion on this important foreign policy issue in the current election. The future of Arctic governance is crucial to the prosperity and security of Canada and its people. Canadians should demand the know how their political leaders stand on the Arctic.

The opinions expressed in this blog are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Global Brief or the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs.


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