Here’s what you need to know about the Arctic climate meeting

Climate Change

Barack Obama President Barack Obama speaks at the GLACIER Conference in Anchorage, Alaska, Monday, Aug. 31, 2015. AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Monday was the day for high-level meetings on climate change, known as GLACIER, in Anchorage, Alaska. U.S. President Barack Obama traveled to Alaska to deliver closing remarks, underscoring the importance he’s placed on climate change while also becoming the first sitting U.S. president to travel to the Arctic.

“Alaskans are on the frontlines of one of the greatest challenges we face this century — climate change,” Obama said in a video address. “In Alaska, the glaciers are melting. The hunting and fishing on which generations have depended for their way of life, and their jobs, are now in danger. Because what’s happening in Alaska isn’t just a preview of what will happen to the rest of us if we don’t take action, it’s our wakeup call. The alarm bells are ringing.”


What’s this meeting?
GLACIER is the acronym for the wordy “Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience” conference. It’s two days of sessions, talks, and meetings hosted by the U.S. on, among other topics, how to stem the impacts of climate change, increase economic security for those who live in the Arctic, and protect the environment.

Although the meetings are happening while the U.S. is chair of the Arctic Council — which “promotes cooperation, coordination, and interaction among Arctic states, indigenous communities, and interested parties to achieve sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic” — it’s not an Arctic Council sponsored event. Which means this is an informal gathering — anything signed wouldn’t carry the same weight as a U.N. or Arctic Council agreement.


Who’s there?
Representatives from 21 governments were present, sending diplomats of varying rank levels rank. Besides Obama, they included U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Canada Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Daniel Jean, China Special Representative of the Foreign Minister Tang Guoqiang, and Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the United States Sergey Kislyak.

The full list is here.


What’s in the statement?
On Monday evening most of the representatives signed a statement, saying in part:

…we reaffirm our commitment to take urgent action to slow the pace of warming in the Arctic, focusing on actions that impact the global atmosphere as well as the Arctic itself.

…We take seriously warnings by scientists: temperatures in the Arctic are increasing at more than twice the average global rate. Loss of Arctic snow and ice is accelerating the warming of the planet as a whole by exposing darker surfaces that absorb more sunlight and heat.

…Arctic sea ice decline has been faster during the past ten years than in the previous 20 years, with summer sea ice extent reduced by 40 percent since 1979.

…In particular, we affirm our strong determination to work together and with others to achieve a successful, ambitious outcome at the international climate negotiations in December in Paris this year.


It was signed by 19 of the 21 represented governments, including Canada, European Union, Iceland, Russia, United Kingdom, and United States. According to a U.S. Arctic Press and Public Affairs Officer, China and India did not sign the statement. China said it needed more time to review the statement, which was still being worked on in the days leading up to the GLACIER meeting.


What’s next?
GLACIER could be a stepping stone to the U.N. climate change talks in Paris at the end of the year, where expectations for some sort of agreement are high. That’s due in no small part to China and the U.S. signing a historic agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“It seems as though the United Nations climate conference taking place in Paris later this year is at the forefront of every climate conversation these days, and GLACIER is no different,” Arctic scientist Leehi Yona wrote in RTCC. “It is, in part, hoping to bring these countries together to cooperate on climate action in some way.”