“The Arctic is the leading edge of climate change; our leading indicator of what the entire planet faces,” President Obama told foreign ministers from around the world meeting last summer in Anchorage that he came to Alaska to draw attention to climate change and how it’s affecting the Arctic.
“Arctic temperatures are rising about twice as fast as the global average,” President Obama said in a speech at the GLACIER conference, a gathering of senior diplomats to discuss climate change impact on the Arctic.
Obama’s historic visit to Alaska was among several actions he’s taken in recent months to show resolve in addressing global warming in the lead-up to the Paris climate conference. Delegates from nearly 200 nations will convene there next week to consider an agreement to sharply reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to slow global warming.
A State Department official says that would indirectly benefit the Arctic.
“The word ‘Arctic’ may not be mentioned in the agreement,” says Karen Florini, a deputy special envoy for Climate Change. Florini says Arctic nations and residents stand to gain from a conference focus on adaptation, to help residents of the region cope with more flooding, wildfires and other impacts.
“The Arctic will be a principal beneficiary,” she said, “because of course the Arctic is warming two to three times as fast as the rest of the planet and that’s putting a lot of stress on Arctic systems.”
Elisabeth Dabney is the executive director of Fairbanks-based Northern Alaska Environmental Center. And she says adaptation provisions must help Arctic residents cope with the warming climate.
“There needs to be solutions presented to communities to (enable residents) not only adapt to climate change but able to mitigate its effect,” Dabney said.
Jessica Girard, the center’s Arctic Program director, hopes the agreement will promote increased use of renewable energy and decreasing dependence on fossil fuels. Though she realizes that’s an unpopular idea in a cold region that depends on those fuels for heat, electricity – and economic activity.
“It gets very difficult to talk about mitigation in Alaska when 88 percent of our economy is based on oil,” she said.
But Girard says Alaska is actually the perfect place to transition from fossil fuels, because it has an abundance of wind, hydro, geothermal and other renewable energy resources.