ARCUS D.C. Arctic Research Seminar Series – Ambassador Mark Brzezinski

Ambassador Mark Brzezinski, Executive Director of the Arctic Executive Steering Committee, provided a presentation giving an update on the activities of the U.S. Arctic Executive Steering Committee and briefed the group on the upcoming White House Arctic Science Ministerial being planned for September 28.


The Arctic Executive Steering Committee (AESC) includes the following members:

  • The President’s Science Advisor Dr. John Holdren serves as the chair;
  • Vice Chair is Deputy Homeland Security Advisor Amy Pope;
  • Executive Director is Ambassador Mark Brzezinski
  • AESC Membership includes components of the Executive Office of the President, including the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), Domestic Policy Council (DPC), and the National Security Council (NSC);
  • AESC Membership also includes Deputy Secretaries of the Departments of States, Defense, Justice, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health and Human Services, Transportation, Energy, and Homeland Security; a total of 25 federal agencies and departments are represented on the AESC;
  • Equivalent officers from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, EPA, NASA, NSF, and the Arctic Research Commission; and
  • Assistant to the President for Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs.

The AESC is responsible for improving priority setting and strategic planning, and the coherence of engagement with the State of Alaska and Alaska Native communities and supporting the U.S. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council (AC) for the 2015 – 2017 U.S. Chairmanship.


The Denali Commission is the principal coordinating body for the federal and state response to the relocation of the four villages being impacted by the effects of climate change, and working with the AESC to address this.


The White House requests $14 million for the commission to support voluntary relocation efforts.

Beneath those all kinds other smaller programs:

  • New grants for projects under the Rural Alaska Villages Grant Program;
  • Initiatives to expedite communities’ efforts to develop replicable clean-energy plans;
  • High Energy Cost grants awarded from the USDA to improve electric infrastructure in rural Alaska; and
  • They are also getting assistance with mapping.


The 2016 Implementation Framework for the National Strategy for the Arctic Region captures all the milestones so far from the commitments of the White House.


Brzezinski added that one thing AESC is focused on moving forward is bringing Alaskans to the White House.  Governor Walker was at the White House earlier this year during the National Governors Association, where he acknowledged that even though there are political differences between the Executive branch and the State of Alaska’s government, compared to the past, there has not been a more healthy relationships among the two parties than there is now.


In Washington, money walks, and the U.S. budget proposal for 2017 reflects a national imperative on arctic issues.  There is a commitment to pursue $150 million to fund an icebreaker.  $2 billion in the budget towards climate resilience nationally, with recognition that Alaska is among the hardest hit locales in terms of coastal erosion and adaptation.


Arctic science has been game changing, and has captured the full potential of alignments between Arctic governments.  Under the Swedish Chairmanship, they held an Environmental Ministerial meeting.  So, under the U.S. chairmanship of the AC, the President wants to hold a science ministerial.  The President has stated that we need a global approach to solve today’s historically unique challenges, and this has manifested itself in the Arctic.


The Arctic doesn’t reflect the danger of the future, but an opening for a collective and effective response if we can successfully work together to face the issues in the Arctic.


He then discussed the desired outcomes for the science ministerial in September.


The meeting will also include non-federals and especially representatives of Native and tribal stakeholder groups.  We are continually having meetings with other cabinets.  Yesterday, Craig Fleener shared Alaska’s governor’s perspective on how the AESC is performing and where they need to do better.


As far as goals or outcomes for the September meeting, AESC is trying to cobble together alignments and scientific combinations with other governments so that they are catalytic to the future.  Some of these could include practical methodologies.  Another desired outcome is tangible opportunities to share data.  The working ministerial is planned to be broader than the AC, as well as more inclusive in a way that aligns with the government.


At the end there will be a short joint statement reflecting a broad sense of historical direction as it pertains to the Arctic.


AESC wants the event to be specifically at the White House, but it does have space constraints, but Native and tribal representatives will be fully represented and included in the meeting.


Brzezinski was then asked questions from the audience members.


Q: Larry Hinzman stated that it seems it will be difficult to define science multinational agreements during the ministerial, will there be activities leading up to this?


A: Brzezinski responded that they hope agreements from the meeting will transcend the administration.

Hope agreements transcend the administration.  We have heard from a number of foreign governments that we can press forward in this area.  Martin Jefferies and Jeremy Mathis are going to be working together in June and July on what some of these agreements between the science ministers will be.

Q: An audience member asked a question if on the day of the meeting, whether or not there will be any side events where others can contribute to the event.


A: Brzezinski responded that we are developing our communication strategy, and so far it will be a working ministerial and it is undecided if we are going to webcast or live stream the event, ultimately it is whatever best supports the goal to get as many high caliber deliverables as possible.


Q: Anita Parlow, A.L. Parlow & Associates, LLC, asked about the continuity of the meeting, and its focus on science and implications and impacts.


A: Brzezinski responded that as far as continuity goes, the goal is to get as many actionable combinations pertaining to Arctic science – this is the moment for Arctic scientists.


He elaborated that to the President, great science knows no borders.  The goal of the science ministerial meeting is to use science diplomacy to broker agreements between governments.


He added that respect to icebreakers, the government has not participated in the funding and building of an icebreaker since 1970’s.  Brzezinski emphasized that it will be built in the U.S., which requires the correct platform to do so.


Brzezinski also made remarks about Russia.  The U.S. and Russia have a cooperative working relationship in the Arctic.