Intervention at the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Legislative Assembly of Nunavut Iqaluit, Canada
Iqaluit, Canada
April 24, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good afternoon. And to start with, let me say what a pleasure it is to be here in Iqaluit. It’s a fascinating part of the world, and we’re all very grateful for the opportunity to be here and we’re very grateful for your wonderful hospitality. Thank you. I’m delighted to be here with my entire delegation, but let me just single out two people. I’m particularly pleased that we’re able to be joined by two key members of the United States Senate who will play important roles on this subject: Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Senator Angus King of Maine. And I’m very grateful to them for taking time to come up here and be part of this.

Let me begin by adding my voice to the chorus here this afternoon of congratulations to you, Leona, Minister Aglukkaq. This has been a very competent and important two years of development of the agenda, and we want to congratulate you on an exemplary two-year period of leadership. I think that everybody would agree that it’s been a very important part of the council’s now 20-year history, and it has given all of us, and particularly my government as we are privileged to assume the chair, a very strong platform on which to build during the next couple of years.

I also want to express my admiration for the contribution of the permanent participants who sit with us here today and who are really the bridge between our world, those who are the eight, and all the people who call the Arctic their home. And I’d also like to thank the observers of the council who make this forum a true global enterprise that it needs to be in order to be able to accomplish the ambitious goals that we set for ourselves.

Over the last few years, the United States has made this region and its future a very significant part of our foreign policy. After releasing our Arctic National Strategy in 2013, President Obama followed with an implementation plan and an executive order to focus on promoting responsible environmental stewardship, conflict prevention, and strong international cooperation throughout the region. And I’m pleased that every minister here this afternoon has talked about the criticality of the peaceful goals that we all seek here.

To help guide this vision, as all of you know, the President has appointed a terrific special representative for the Arctic, Admiral Robert Papp, who we were able to get into this new role almost immediately upon his departure as Commandant of the United States Coast Guard, so this is an area and issues that he is very, very familiar with. And we also – the President appointed a special advisor on Arctic science and policy, Fran Ulmer. And I want to welcome Fran and a lot of folks in Alaska who are watching this live at this time as we proceed, and we welcome them to this conversation. Their counsel and their leadership have already greatly improved our international Arctic engagement and also helped us to set the agenda that we’ll set out in a little while here.

Now, obviously as we assume the chairmanship of the council here in Iqaluit, we’re going to have an opportunity to lay out our priorities in some detail in a few moments, but I just want to take a moment now quickly to highlight a couple of critical efforts that the council undertook over the past two years with Canada’s leadership that we very much hope to develop further.

First, the council has maintained much-needed attention on the efforts to advance greater capacity for the permanent representatives’ participants in the council. The indigenous communities of the region represented here by the council’s permanent participant organizations have lived in the Arctic for thousands of years. And your rich cultures and deep knowledge of the Arctic and its unique environment shape and must shape the Arctic Council’s work and guide our decision making. And I want to underscore the United States and the rest of the council will continue working together to better address indigenous challenges and priorities.

Second, the United States very much supports the effort led by Canada to stand up the Arctic Economic Council which will help business to invest and help Arctic communities to prosper, but also – I hope and I think everybody here hopes – help all of us within the context of the council to be able to make sure that development is consistent with the goals and aspirations of the council itself.

And we’re very well aware that the retreat of sea ice in the region brings with it a lot of opportunities, though not everybody sees them in the same context as opportunities. Shipping lanes are already beginning to open, providing jobs and new possibilities for commercial enterprise. But like many of you have stated here, it’s imperative that the development that we pursue is sensitive to the lifestyle and the history that people want to hold onto and also that it’s sustainable, that it doesn’t exacerbate other challenges in the Arctic and around the world, and that we also look way downstream to make sure that when something is extracted and people are finished, they’re not leaving a place as a new kind of desert even in the Arctic. And I think you know what I mean.

We believe the private sector has a huge role to play in ensuring that we find the right balance, and we have an enormous role to play with the private sector in making sure that they adopt that role and live it out.

Third, I am particularly pleased by the work that’s gone into the Framework for Action on the Enhanced Black Carbon and Methane Emissions. I’ll discuss this a little bit more in our – as we assume the chair. But I think everybody here has talked about the profound impact that climate change is having on this region. The framework we’ve worked together to develop expresses our shared commitment to significantly reduce black carbon and methane emissions, which are two of the most potent greenhouse gasses, and it sets the stage to adopt an ambitious collective goal on black carbon by the next ministerial meeting in 2017. So I very much look forward to implementing this framework over the course of the U.S. chairmanship.

And finally, I’m grateful for the council’s continued work on longstanding Arctic priorities, including enhancing our preparedness for oil spills and similar disasters. But as we all know, preparing for an oil spill is not enough; preventing an oil spill from occurring in the first place is the first step in any kind of stewardship of the Arctic. And the cooperation that we will pursue through the Arctic Council and other bodies such as the Arctic Offshore Regulators Forum are real steps in the right direction.

The United States shares a lot more than a border with our Canadian friends, our neighbors. And that certainly includes our values and our priorities for Arctic residents and our deep concern for the opportunities and challenges now confronting us as leaders of the region. As we assume the chair, we’re going to build on the important momentum that Canada has generated carrying on the good work of the council and introducing new initiatives to try to help us address the concerns that have been expressed around the dais here. So with that, I again thank you, Minister Aglukkaq and the rest of the Canadian delegation, for the leadership and the partnership and your hospitality, and we look forward to strengthening our cooperation in the years to come during the U.S. chairmanship and well, well beyond. Thank you.