Senators address Arctic warming

WASHINGTON — Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., pledged on Tuesday to address the issue of global warming in the Arctic and to seek a new icebreaker for the region.
Kerry’s comments came at the end of a two-hour hearing on the global implications of warming in the Arctic.
“This is a very challenging and very urgent problem,” Kerry said. “It is in our economic and national security interest to get on this issue fast.”
He added, “There is no question that we need to add an icebreaker.”
Kerry was joined by Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich at the forum, which featured a discussion with international experts and environmentalists.
All participants agreed the rapid retreat of sea ice in the Arctic is a serious problem with many ramifications.
Murkowski said a global chess game is beginning in the Arctic, and the U.S. “is playing with a serious shortage of pieces.”
She said the U.S. Coast Guard operates two aging Polar class icebreakers, while Canada has six and Russia has 18.
Begich agreed, saying he found it strange that a House committee recently approved an icebreaker for the Great Lakes but not for Alaska.
“The Arctic is rapidly changing, which the Native community has seen for generations,” Begich said.
Scott Borgerson, a visiting fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, predicted the Arctic will be ice free in the summer as soon as 2013.
“Arctic marine ice is melting far more rapidly than policy can keep up with it,” Borgerson said.
He called for “robust diplomacy” between the U.S. and other Arctic nations, especially Canada. He also advised consultation with Native people who have lived in the Arctic for generations and have witnessed the changes.
“With humility, we should listen to the wisdom of these elders,” Borgerson said.
Lisa Speer, oceans program director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called for top leaders to focus on the Arctic, including President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She urged that the topic be placed on the agenda of the July meeting between Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
“We have a breather on oil and gas development,” Speer said. “That gives us a bit of a window to think how to proceed in a thoughtful way. But the conversations must be at a high level.”
Mead Treadwell, chairman of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission in Anchorage, said Congress needs to strengthen the oil spill research program, add icebreakers and develop a strong monitoring network in the Arctic.
He said, “We seek a shipping regime that is safe. This isn’t an ocean we can put a ‘keep out’ sign on.”
Borgerson, Treadwell and others urged Congress to ratify the long-stalled United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The 1982 treaty provides a legal framework to govern the Arctic. It has been approved by all major maritime nations except the U.S.
Kerry promised to lobby Clinton and other senators about the treaty.
“We have to get that done,” Kerry said. “It is obviously critical.”

By:  Betty Mills