President Establishes Arctic Executive Steering Committee

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“There is established an Arctic Executive Steering Committee . . .  which shall provide guidance to executive departments and agencies . . .  and enhance coordination of Federal Arctic policies across agencies and offices, and, where applicable, with State, local, and Alaska Native tribal governments and similar Alaska Native organizations, academic and research institutions, and the private and nonprofit sectors” declares an Executive Order issued by President Obama on Wednesday.

The Order comes as the United States prepares to chair the Arctic Council later this year.  The Council consists of eight Arctic nations: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States.  The Council’s website explains “Six international organisations representing Arctic Indigenous Peoples have permanent participant status.”  The website explains “The primary forum through which the United States engages in Arctic diplomacy is the Arctic Council.”

The two and one-half page order recognizes the impact of climate change on the region.  A section entitled “Policy” states the following:

“The Arctic has critical long-term strategic, ecological, cultural, and economic value, and it is imperative that we continue to protect our national interests in the region, which include: national defense; sovereign rights and responsibilities; maritime safety; energy and economic benefits; environmental stewardship; promotion of science and research; and preservation of the rights, freedoms, and uses of the sea as reflected in international law.

“Over the past 60 years, climate change has caused the Alaskan Arctic to warm twice as rapidly as the rest of the United States, and will continue to transform the Arctic as its consequences grow more severe. Over the past several decades, higher atmospheric temperatures have led to a steady and dramatic reduction in Arctic sea ice, widespread glacier retreat, increasing coastal erosion, more acidic oceans, earlier spring snowmelt, thawing permafrost, drier landscapes, and more extensive insect outbreaks and wildfires, thus changing the accessibility and natural features of this remote region. As a global leader, the United States has the responsibility to strengthen international cooperation to mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change, understand more fully and manage more effectively the adverse effects of climate change, protect life and property, develop and manage resources responsibly, enhance the quality of life of Arctic inhabitants, and serve as stewards for valuable and vulnerable ecosystems. In doing so, we must rely on science-based decisionmaking and respect the value and utility of the traditional knowledge of Alaska Native peoples. As the United States assumes the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, it is more important than ever that we have a coordinated national effort that takes advantage of our combined expertise and efforts in the Arctic region to promote our shared values and priorities.”

The new Steering Committee will “provide guidance and coordinate efforts to implement the priorities, objectives, activities, and responsibilities” and prioritize Federal activities.  Its membership is wide-ranging, including the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Council on Environmental Quality, Domestic Policy Council, National Security Council, Office of Management and Budget, eleven of the fifteen executive departments, other federal agencies (EPA, NASA, NSF, and the Arctic Council) and selected federal officials.   The Committee is chaired by the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.  Recognizing the national security implications of climate change in the Arctic, the Vice Chair of the Committee is the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. 

The Executive Order directs the Committee to “meet quarterly, or as appropriate, to shape priorities, establish strategic direction, oversee implementation, and ensure coordination of Federal activities in the Arctic.”  By May 1 a working group within the Committee is to issue a report that “(i) identifies potential areas of overlap between and within agencies with respect to implementation of Arctic policy and strategic priorities and provides recommendations to increase coordination and reduce any duplication of effort, which may include ways to increase the effectiveness of existing groups; and (ii) provides recommendations to address any potential gaps in implementation.”

Other provisions of the Order pertain to engagement with stakeholders, including the State of Alaska and Alaska Native Tribal governments.  The complete text of the Executive Order is here


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