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.

An array of stickers awaits voters on Election Day 2022. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: The case for keeping the parties from controlling our elections

Next month Alaskans will participate in the second open primary under the… Continue reading

(City and Borough of Juneau photo)
My Turn: ‘Ship-free Saturdays’ will nullify progress made toward controlling cruise ship impacts

Alaska’s wildness and communities are what draw people to this incredible part… Continue reading

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Letter: School board recalls a vote of no-confidence?

While four previous columns in the Empire have expressed concerns about efforts… Continue reading

The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Tuesday. The court granted an unprecedented expansion of executive power, worrying the country’s allies. (Tierney L. Cross/The New York Times)
Opinion: A gift-wrapped Supreme Court decision for Republicans

On Monday, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan gave us another example of his… Continue reading

The Assembly Room at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where the original U.S. Constitutional Convention took place. (Antonie Taveneaux / CC BY-SA 3.0)
Opinion: Let’s celebrate our country this Fourth of July

On July 4, 1776, a year after the outbreak of the American… Continue reading

Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. board members, staff and advisors meet Oct. 30, 2023. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: The concerns of reasonable Alaskans isn’t ‘noise’

It’s been two months since Alaska Landmine published leaked emails that suggest… Continue reading

Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom addresses the crowd during an inaugural celebration for her and Gov. Mike Dunleavy at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Jan. 20, 2023. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: The many truths Dahlstrom will deny

“Now more than ever, we need real conservative leadership in Washington to… Continue reading

A person departs Bartlett Regional Hospital on July 26, 2023. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: The importance of a strong, independent community hospital

Juneau’s city-owned Bartlett Regional Hospital (BRH) is in the news, presenting our… Continue reading

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Letter: Disappointed by JAHC director’s opposition to Ship-Free Saturdays

As a member of the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, I was… Continue reading