teaser

Opinion: As world celebrated Earth Day, Arctic Council ‘pause’ endangered humanity’s united stand against climate change

April 22 is celebrated around the world as Earth Day…

  • By Barry Scott Zellen
  • Wednesday, April 27, 2022 6:08pm
  • Opinion

By Barry Scott Zellen

April 22 is celebrated around the world as Earth Day, a symbolic day of unity on issues relating to the global movement to protect our environment and to stop climate change. The Arctic, more than any region on earth, has come to illustrate the power of a unified response to the climate threat, with the Arctic Council, formed in 1996, nurturing an enduring consensus among its diverse ecosystem of asymmetrical actors, whether state, indigenous, or non-state, for over a quarter century.

But all that changed on March 3, 2022 – when the AC’s seven democratic member states announced their historic “pause” of forthcoming AC participation, in protest of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This is not the first time tensions over Russian aggression in Ukraine strained the AC’s impressive track record for circumpolar unity. In 2014, after Russia’s first assault upon Ukraine, the USA and Canada jointly boycotted a meeting held in Moscow, but soon thereafter rejoined their fellow AC members in the spirit of Arctic cooperation.

While Russia’s actions in Ukraine are reprehensible, boycotting all AC meetings while Russia holds its rotating chair is as illogical as shuttering the UN General Assembly, or putting a pause on meetings of the Security Council. The issues facing the Arctic – of which climate change is perhaps the most pressing for all stakeholders, small and large – cannot be paused. Indeed, Russia’s portion of the Arctic represents fully half the circumpolar world – spanning 11 time zones, with the largest Arctic population, most robust Arctic economy, and most diverse mosaic of indigenous and minority cultures.

There was a time not long ago when the AC confronted a deep division in its ranks that threatened the very consensus that undergirds its foundation. That was just three years ago, and the offending member state was not Russia, but the USA. The issue that drove a wedge between the AC members was that of climate change, long a unifying issue on the AC.

But despite this temporary collapse in consensus, the AC survived. The organization proved as resilient as the diverse collective of Arctic peoples, states, cultures and organizations it represents. If the AC can survive that collapse in consensus, there is no reason why it can’t do the same again now.

As Earth Day reminds us, we must look not only beyond the war in Ukraine, but ahead to a restoration of circumpolar unity – so that we can once again step up to face this danger confronting all the world, together.

• Barry Scott Zellen is a visiting scholar in the Department of Geography at the University of Connecticut, and has authored or edited a dozen books on Arctic, Indigenous and strategic issues. More about his research can be found at BarryZellen.com and SmallerPlanet.org. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

More in Opinion

Web
Have something to say?

Here’s how to add your voice to the conversation.

Mist from Nugget Falls has a prism-like effect in September 2020. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Multiple vehicles line up at the entrance of Waste Management’s Capitol Disposal Landfill in Lemon Creek Monday morning. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)
The absence of economic incentives to reduce waste

This week, Waste Management, the Texas based company that owns and operates… Continue reading

Over 200 people attended LunaFest (Courtesy Photo)
Opinion: JPCC owes a huge debt of gratitude to two LunaFest guest speakers

LunaFest 2023 was JPCC’s most successful fundraising event ever.

(Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Education funding is complicated and political

At a recent Alaska State Senate Education Committee hearing at the Capitol,… Continue reading

At Wednesday evening’s special Assembly meeting, the Assembly appropriated nearly $4 million toward funding a 5.5% wage increase for all CBJ employees along with a 5% increase to the employer health contribution. According to City Manager Rorie Watt, it doesn't necessarily fix a nearly two decade-long issue of employee retention concerns for the city. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)
Opinion: Assessment needs additional oversight

A win in dealing with City and Borough of Juneau is when… Continue reading

This photo shows the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Deja vu for the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area

Three new alternatives don’t go far enough.

In this Nov. 29, 2018 photo, clouds swirl over Douglas Island. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: The Roadless Rule is a misnomer for what’s really happening in the Tongass

The Roadless Rule, as currently comprised with an exception provision, works.

Faith Myers stands at the doors of API. (Courtesy Photo)
Opinion: Psychiatric patient care report could be catalyst for improvements

Will good suggestions get lost in state bureaucracy?

Most Read