The Road To Nuuk

James B. Steinberg
Deputy Secretary of State
Remarks at the Center For Strategic International Studies (CSIS)
Washington, DC
May 9, 2011

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: It’s a pleasure to be here. It’s a pleasure to be back. This is a reprise from the Arctic Council meetings, so the last time I was here, I was on my way to the deputy ministers meeting. But I’m pleased to be here to preview Secretary Clinton’s participation in the Arctic Council Ministerial andU.S. goals and objectives not only for this meeting of the – ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council, but more broadly going forward. It’s of course, an honor to be here to talk about the Road to Nuuk, but as most of you know here, there are no roads to Nuuk, so we’re all facing the challenge of a very exciting environment in which there are few roads and few hotel rooms. (Laughter.) But the American team is going to look forward to the opportunity to be seaborne while they participate in this meeting.

It is, I think, significant that the meeting is taking place in Greenland for the reasons that Heather suggested, because it’s an important both gathering but also assemble of some of the big challenges that the Arctic faces. Heather characterized it as a historic meeting, and I think we share that view for a number of reasons. As she said, this is the first time that a U.S. Secretary of State has participated in an Arctic Council ministerial meeting. It emphasizes both the importance the United States Government as a whole places on Arctic diplomacy, but also the personal commitment that Secretary Clinton has had to this. She, even as a senator, expressed and engaged in a very serious way on these issues, and it has been an important issue for her during her tenure as Secretary of State.

There will also besome notable achievements at this ministerial. First, the Council will create a permanent secretariat to strengthen its operational function. We’ve been grateful to the Arctic states that have provided the temporary operating secretariat for the past several years, but the creation of a permanent secretariat really does represent a step forward both in terms of the capacity of the Council, but also the commitment of the Arctic Council members to this institution.

And we’re also going to be strengthening the Council institutionally by using it as the convening body for negotiations among Arctic states, and I think this is an important innovation in the architecture of regional and global cooperation. I talked about this a bit the last time I was here.

The meeting will also mark the first time that the Arctic states have entered into a legally binding agreement and on a very important subject, that is, search-and-rescue operations. This brings to a close one of the most successful negotiations to emerge on emerging issues in the Arctic, and I think sets a paradigm and an example of some of the things that may be possible going forward. As I mentioned, even as senator, Secretary Clinton had visited the Arctic, and she’s looking forward to coming back to see, in a very firsthand way, both the changes that have taken place but also the advancements that we have made as nations trying to cooperate to deal with these challenges.

But as you undoubtedly know, it’s not just Secretary Clinton whowill be attending, and the composition of our delegation really reflects both the breadth and the seriousness of the attention that we as the U.S. Government place. She’ll be accompanied by Secretary Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior and the Deputy Secretary of Interior David Hayes; Lieutenant Governor of Alaska Mead Treadwell, our Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Environment Kerri-Ann Jones; our Ambassador to Denmark Laurie Fulton, and perhaps, depending on Senate schedules, Senator Murkowski. And that really reflects the breadth of the interest that we have, and I think the presence of two U.S. Cabinet secretaries is a real testament to how we see these issues at the meeting.

More broadly, as we think about not just this one meeting, but overall, our approach to the Arctic, I think we can see that our strategy is based on six overarching goals. First, we intend to meet our national security and homeland security needs relevant to the Arctic region. Second, protecting the Arctic environment and conserving its biological resources. Third, ensuring that the national resource management and economic development in the Arctic are environmentally sustainable. Fourth, strengthening the institutions for cooperation among the eight Arctic nations. Fifth, involving the Arctic’s indigenous communities in decisions that affect them. And as you all know, that’s one of the things that’s most innovative about the Arctic Council -- the way in which we involve indigenous communities in the activities of the Council. And sixth and finally, enhancing scientific monitoring and research into local, regional, and global environmental issues.

So it’s a broad-ranging agenda. These are very core interests that are at stake in the Arctic, but it is an opportunity to find new patterns of cooperation to deal with these challenges, because clearly, these are things that the United States or any individual nation acting alone is not able to advance by acting alone. To handle this very ambitious agenda, we have a very comprehensive interagency process in the government that really does involve the full range of interests within our governments through an interagency policy committee which oversees our policy development here, which coordinates with the staff of the National Ocean Council that connect Arctic policy to some of the broader national ocean policy issues.

And of course, as I said, in addition to the coordination within the federal government, we work very closely with state and local governments, particularly the State of Alaska and with indigenous communities which have a such a critical role to play, and whose interest we see ourselves as being very fundamentally aligned with in our work and in our policy development.

With respect to the specific meeting in Nuuk, we have several key goals. First, in the broadest terms, we want to send a strong message that in the post-Cold War world, the Arctic is a region of cooperation, not conflict. And by working together to ensure the safety of human life in a newly emerging region of human activity, we can show in particular that Russia and the United States are key actors in helping to propel cooperation on important issues.

Another major goal is to strengthen the Arctic Council to ensure that it remains the preeminent forum for Arctic diplomacy. We will have a secretariat. It’ll be small but efficient, and it will provide the kind of support that we need to make sure there’s continuity and follow-through on the important work of the Council. And it will also providean important focal point for the broader outreach to publics and communities that are interested in these issues, including NGOs and others who play such an important role in developing the work. And I want to express my appreciation to all of the NGOs, both U.S. and international, who play such a role. I’ve personally benefitted enormously from my interaction with them, and we see them as important partners for us going forward.

Next, we hope that this meeting will see agreementon the criteria for and the role of observer nations – it’s clear that as the Council takes on a broader role and becomes a focal point for work, there is greater interest among other nations with interests in the Arctic to have some kind of association with the Council as well as NGOs. And as we work towards the ministerial, the senior Arctic officials and the permanent participants, the indigenous communities, have developed some new criteria for assessing observer applicants as well as defining the role that observers will play. This is an issue which is still under discussion, but we hope and anticipate that, at the meeting in Nuuk, that we will get some decisions on the way forward, both in terms of the criteria and a timeframe for moving forward with observers.

At the meeting, we hope to engage our partners on the key climate-related issue, the short-lived climate forcing agents black carbon, methane, and HFCs. This is, as you all know here, one of the most important practical issues that we face in the Arctic. We’ve had a chance, over the past two meetings, to try to push this agenda forward. The Council has done some important, groundbreaking research that’s pointed the way onto what we need to do on short-lived climate forcing agents. And we know that they have a disproportionate impact on climate generally, but especially in the Arctic. The Arctic is warming at a rate two to three times faster than the rest of the world, and it’s clear that dealing with the problem of short-lived climate forcers is one of the most effective ways to address climate change.

And I was delighted today, in the context of the bilateral meeting that we’re holding with China through the Strategic Economic – the S&ED, the Strategic and Economic Dialogue with China – that a major topic of discussion between the Secretary, Secretary Chu, Environmental Protection Administration – Administrator Lisa Jackson and others with their Chinese counterparts was addressing the issue of short-lived climate forces. And I think it really reflects a recognition that this is both a key climate challenge and that leading countries have a responsibility to deal with it.

One of the key focuses of our work on SLFCs* is going to be on the problem of black carbon, which has a particularly intense effect in accelerating the melting of frozen areas in the Arctic. And when she spoke to the meeting of the Antarctic Treaty that took place here in Washington at the State Department two years ago, she highlighted this issue as an important challenge, and she pressed for action in both the Arctic Council and in other fora to develop strategies to deal with it. And since that time, the United States and Norway have led a task force to develop mitigation recommendations for the Arctic states based on the science that have come out of this Arctic Council scientific report. And we here in the United States two years ago announced the $5 million program specifically designed to address black carbon emissions in the Arctic. So we will, at the meeting in Nuuk, urge Arctic states to take mitigation actions domestically so we can slow down Arctic melting while we deal with the broader debate on global climate change.

Another element of the challenge of SCLFs is the problem of methane and HFCs. Methane is another important short-lived climate force in contributing to rapid warming in the Arctic. And we are also looking for action by the member states on methane and hope that they’ll join in the broader Global Methane Initiative. Similarly, we hope for action on hydrofluorocarbons, HFCs, which are another potent greenhouse gas, which like black carbon and methane, remain in the atmosphere for a fairly short time but have a very significant impact. So the ability to take action now allows us to have a very important near-term impact and in some ways a bigger multiplier than the longer-term challenge of dealing with carbon dioxide, which as you know, persists in the atmosphere for much longer. And so dealing with atmospheric concentrations is a much longer-term challenge with respect to those greenhouse gases.

Of course, another area of interest in dealing with the future of the Arctic is the issue of protecting the Arctic environment from oil spills. And one of our priorities at the upcoming meeting is to launch a new Arctic task force to negotiate an instrument on oil spills in the Arctic. We know that there are significant deposits of oil and gas that were in the past difficult to access and may become more accessible over time, so we want to get ahead of the curve and try to see what we can do to be prepared, both in terms of preventing accidents in the first place, but in the event that they should happen, having effective mechanisms to deal with accidents should they happen. And that’s why we believe the Arctic Council should take up the issue of oil spill preparedness and response. We think we have a lot to contribute. We’ve obviously learned a lot of lessons from people Deep Water Horizon, and I’m sure the admiral will have a few words to say about that in this context. But I think it is a chance for us all to work together in a cooperative fashion to deal with that.

Another important issue that we’ll address at the Arctic Council meeting, which I know the – our friends in the NGO community have been very focused on and played a leading role on, is the issue of ecosystem-based management. We think it’s critical that we find ways to find look holistically at the challenges of managing the environment and development in the Arctic. And we need the kind of tools that ecosystem-based management provide that we use ourselves in our national ocean policy and are especially well suited, in our view, to dealing with the interrelated challenges of the Arctic.

Some of the Arctic states, such as Norway, already use EBM as part of their domestic policy, and Canada, too, has highlighted it in its Arctic policy. We’re hoping to persuade our colleagues in the Arctic Council to make this an integral part of all of the Arctic Council’s work, and we look forward to the convening of a task force and experts group to look at how we can apply and use the Arctic Council to move this tool forward.

We also hope to take further steps in moving forward in scientific cooperation, and particularly in dealing with the specific challenges that we need to deal with the opportunities and the needs of the citizens and the inhabitants of the Arctic. And that’s one of the reasons why we have been a strong advocate for a number of years in creating the Sustaining Arctic Observing Network, SAON, something that’s an initiative that’s been underway for a couple of years. But it will be launched in Nuuk and it will be a sort of system of observing systems for the Arctic, bringing together a number of different national and cooperative systems that can allow us to work together, such as the Bering Sea Sub-Network run by the Aleut indigenous community in the U.S. and Russia, the International Circumpolar Surveillance run by the U.S. CDC; and the Arctic Observing Network run by other U.S. scientific agencies. But there are also networks in Europe and Russia that can be part of this system. So when we work on this together, we not only provide good, sound data that will allow for long-term management of the Arctic, but it also enhances our cooperation.

Finally, I just want to say, and Heather also mentioned that we recognize that one of the important elements of supporting the work of the Arctic Council is strengthening the underpinnings based in the UN Convention and the Law of the Sea. The Obama Administration remains committed to UNCLOS, and we continue to work with the Senator Kerry and others to look for opportunities to move that forward. We are strongly committed to its accession. We believe it will advance the full range of U.S. interest in this region and indeed across the world.

So that’s a bit of a preview of where we are, and I look forward to your comments and questions. (Applause.)

Do we have mikes or just – go for it. Yes, we have mikes, so right up here, this --

QUESTION: Thank you very much and thank you for taking the time. My name is Josh Rogin. I’m with Foreign Policy magazine. You mentioned at the end of your remarks that the Administration is committed to look for opportunities to seek ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty. Could you please explain to us exactly what would be those opportunities? When would we see some ratification? Many of us are looking for some signs that a ratification push will actually happen. It’s been two and a half years and we hear that perhaps this ratification push won’t come until after the 2012 election. Is that true? And if not, when might we see some actual action on this important issue? Thank you.

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Well, as I said, we’re working very closely with Senator Kerry on this. This is at the very top of the list of Administration priorities. This obviously – we need the leadership and the cooperation of the Senate to find a good opportunity in the Senate calendar. But this has been a priority for the President and for the Secretary, and we’ve had a number of conversations with SenatorKerry. So we are certainly not waiting or pushing it off, but we have to find an opportunity to work with the leadership of the Senate to find the time on their calendar.

Right here.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) institute. Thank you. If there is blockage of – in the Senate for the next few years what are the – you’ve listed a number of things – specific initiatives that are being taken in practical terms. But going deeper into practical issues, like icebreakers as mentioned earlier is – does the United States have a program to work in the Arctic in informal ways or by workarounds that can help deal with some of the real – some of the burning issues, not to mention fossil fuels, but also safety and rescue, you said there is something going forward. What are the other practical ways that we can go forward with partners to alleviate – avoid worse outcomes?

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Well, I think the search and rescue agreement is sort of an example, that it is a legally binding agreement. We’re going to be able to do it as an executive agreement, so we’re allowed – we can go forward with that. I think there are a number of other examples of steps that we can take to reach intergovernmental agreements that allow us to advance a number of these efforts. And as I said, I think just in terms of things like implementing ecosystem-based management, working on issues of coordinated, domestic action on short-lived climate forces, these are all things that can be done in collaboration with the other Arctic countries.

And I think what’s interesting about the Arctic Council is we really are breaking new ground in terms of tools of collaboration. It’s not a treaty-based organization. But what we’re finding is that it facilitates negotiations among the member states to move forward. And that, I think, is going to be a model for a lot of the work that we do internationally, so you don’t have the rigidities of some of the more formal institutions. The efforts that we make on SLCFs, for example, can contribute to the broader climate discussions that are taking place through the UN Framework Convention and elsewhere. But we have the nimbleness because it’s a smaller group of significant countries that take decisions going forward, and that kind of workis going to be more and more the model that we see of how do you provide leading edge effort to stimulate broader international agreements, moving forward.

Of course, I also want to emphasize on the Law of the Sea that we have not formally acceded to it. Still, the United States does – is a signatory, abides by and respects the provisions of that treaty,and we continue to believe it’s an important instrument for our own national interest.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Guardian. Just to get a bit more clarity on the issue of the short-term climate forces, do you – how – what’s your expectation for actually getting an agreement on – for action on this issue at this summit or if you can put a timeline on it – agreement, an action plan, sort of a mini-Kyoto or Cancun --

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Right. Again, I mean, I think what we recognize – I mean, at the end of the day is that for most of these actions they require domestic actions by the key players. But if you think about the model that – established by Copenhagen and now incorporated into Cancun agreement, what you have is a system that allows individual nations to make commitments, but to have the kind of mutual commitment to each other that – in the context of these individual action plans – that we will be responsive to each other’s efforts. And that’s why the Copenhagen-Cancun model of individual countries putting forward action plans but engaging in dialogue with their partners to try to encourage coordinated efforts, I think, is a very promising model to go forward. And as I say, the step from Copenhagen to Cancun shows that these kinds of efforts can be effective. So what we’ll be looking for with respect to short-lived climate forces, not just among the Arctic Council members but other nations, is steps that we can take together.

And so for example, outside this context – and as I mentioned today in the China-U.S. S&ED meeting, we looked at steps that we can take on cooking fuels, on biofuels and the like, and steps that we can mutually take, both to provide technology exchanges but also to strengthen our own domestic efforts to try to move that agenda forward.

QUESTION: But in terms of an agreement on (inaudible)?

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINGERG: Again, it’s a coordinated effort of individual states looking at what is needed broadly, and trying to find common understandings about steps that individualist countries can do. The problem, of course, is different in different countries. The problem of – I mean, for more developed countries, for example, the challenges has to do with diesel, which is an important source of black carbon and is in more advanced countries. For others, where you’re dealing with problems of domestic cooking and heating, there are a whole different set of challenges. So I don’t think there’s a single answer in terms of what can be done.

Now there are other – there are elements of this, like the hydrochlorofluorocarbon problem where there are more formal mechanisms, both through the Montreal Protocol and through the UNFCC* that may allow for more formal agreements. But again, I think the point here is to have a coordinated focus, a coordinated set of efforts to put attention on this issue and to kind of encourage countries to step up to the plate, to take strong actions domestically, and give the sense – because, after all, this is a collective action problem, right – in the sense that each – if everybody doesn’t help, then individual efforts don’t have that big an impact.

So even though there won’t be a – it’s unlikely to be a formal legal agreement on this, what we are seeing is kind of challenging each other to make the collective and common effort to try to raise the standards, incentivize strong action, and give people a sense that if you take strong action, others will do it, too. And that tool, I think, has been proven to be a successful one and allows us to move this agenda forward without the – some of the rigidities of kind of a – going through the negotiation of a formal agreement.

QUESTION: Caitlyn Antrim, Rule of Law Committee for the Oceans. Since Law of the Sea has already been addressed, I won’t pick that topic. You mentioned the U.S. and Russia as partners in the Arctic. Beyond the ministerial, what type of things are you looking at in a – in building that partnership? In particular – and Admiral Allen can address things of navigation work, maritime safety – but Russia has a pretty extensive plan for developing their Arctic and looking for partners in that, and it seems like that’s an opportunity both for American business and American environmental groups. And do you have anything to say about the U.S.-Russia maritime boundary agreement and getting that finally locked in on the Russian side?

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: On the cooperation, I mean, there are, in – as I said, in addition to these multilateral discussions that take place through the Arctic Council, we have a fairly intense bilateral engagement. With the Russians in particular, this is an area of great interest. I think one of the areas where we’ve had some important cooperation is on the scientific side. There’s a lot of interest in our two scientific establishments in working together. And through our bilateral cooperation mechanisms with Russia that the Vice President and others have played a big role in, we’re trying to expand the areas of cooperation, including military-to-military, for example. I mean, this is an important dimension of this. I think we have been encouraging Russia to see the issue of moving forward with exploration and exploitation of resources as something that requires cooperative management, and I think there is a good discussion going on there.

On the maritime boundary, I can’t tell you I know where the Russians are in their thinking on that.

Right in the back. There we go.

QUESTION: Hi, Deputy Secretary. Brooks Yaeger with Clean Air Cool Planet. I just wanted to say two things. One, congratulations, really, for the U.S. leadership and agenda in enhanced cooperation that discusses a number of really important issues, both on environment and development, and also makes management cooperation perhaps more weighty than the reasons for competition and non – or competitiveness in the Arctic.

The second question is: The U.S has really been leading on some of this and in putting some of these issues forward. Some countries have been more excited about that proposition than others. We’ve got – you’ve got Secretary Clinton going to the meeting. Is there a chance there for her to use her personal influence and her presence and her interest to motivate perhaps faster action and more specific steps forward on both the issue of black carbon and the issue of ecosystem management? There is some danger that both of them will be talked about a lot at the Arctic Council, but not much will be done about them.

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Well, all of these glasses can either be half full or half empty. And I have to say that my own experience, both at the one ministerial that I attended and the deputy ministers meeting, is that they actually – the spirit of cooperation is very good. And you mentioned with Russia, but I – at the ministerial that I attended, I was really struck by Minister Lavrov’s strong commitment to working on these issues, and the sense that this is a place where there are obviously different perspectives on issues and there are issues between other countries that swirl around the side of the Arctic Council, but the broader impetus for collaboration is actually very strong. And I think there’s a real recognition that there is simply no unilateral set of choices there, and if countries want to protect and preserve their long-term interests here, they have to do it in collaboration with others.

And I think nothing is more dramatic than the recent boundary agreement that we saw at the last meeting, which I think surprised everybody but it really reflected a spirit of cooperation, which I think really does characterize the Arctic.

Again, I don’t want to suggest that there aren’t going to be conflicts or difference of perspectives, and each country has slightly different takes on what their national interests are. There are different ways of pursuing these things. But compared to a lot of other arenas in which we work, I think there is a broad recognition at very high levels that this is the commons in a very important way, and that even though there are territorial claims there – this isn’t the Antarctic – that this is still an area where no country is going to be successful over the long term in just kind of asserting national interest and territorial issues without trying to work with the others.

And again, I think the other part that’s very striking is there’s a strong responsiveness to the indigenous communities among all the member states of the Arctic Council. They’re present there, and there is a real recognition that they are partners in this. So as international arrangements go, the combination of states, indigenous communities, and the NGOs, I think – well, you’ve been there; you know – I think is a relatively unique and relatively encouraging set. Again, not to diminish the fact that these are difficult issues; the difficulty of reaching binding agreements is always going to be challenging. We are also going to have to relate to other organizations, like how does the IMO fit in with the work of the Arctic Council.

But this – the informality and the high-level engagement in the Arctic Council is relatively unique. I think it has engaged the imagination of senior officials and all of the Arctic Council members. And so the level of commitment to me, and based on my own experience in working in a lot of these organizations before, is uniquely positive. And it gives, I think, a spirit of cooperation, and obviously, I think the Secretary’s presence, as you suggest, and her personal engagement is going to be all to the good in terms of the agenda that we’re trying to pursue.

I’ll take one more, over there.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks. Renee Schoof from McClatchy Newspapers. Thank you. Will the Secretary bring any list of what the U.S. plans to do to reduce the diesel black carbon or methane emissions here in this country?

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: I think she’s going to brief on the efforts that we have been making and what our thinking is on the strategy going forward. I think we have a robust plan that involves both considerable scientific research and investments by the Department of Energy in these areas, as well as some ideas about what the international engagement is going forward, particularly on HFCs.

I’m going to have to go.