U.S. Senior Arctic Official Julie Gourley addressed the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce, describing the Arctic Council’s (AC) current activities under the U.S. Chairmanship of the AC.
Julie Gourley described some of the current activities of the AC task forces, which are put together for a specific purpose for a defined period of time to concentrate high-level expertise in a particular area. They differ from the six AC working groups (WG’s) that have their own working mandate and operate as a part of the AC.
One particular project of the AC is Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). The AC is especially interested in using that technology to monitor black carbon emissions in the Arctic, as well as other greenhouse gases. The AC also hopes to use them for search and rescue missions in harsh environmental conditions. Right now, UAS in the Arctic are mostly being flown in international airspace. All the Arctic states came together to approve these guidelines; nowhere else in the world are there UAS guidelines for safety operations.
Gourley discussed was the Arctic Remote Energy Networks Academy (ARENA). This program focuses on sharing knowledge amongst energy professionals related to micro-grids and integration of renewable resources for remote Arctic communities, as well as improving access to renewable technology to reduce dependence on diesel fuel.
The ARENA program is on scheduled for a pilot program in 2016, and has the potential for full-scale multiyear deployment in 2017. The plan for the pilot program is to have a series of free webinars available online beginning in late March 2016, followed up with on-site training in Alaska for a chosen set of fellows from across the world in August 2016. The Alaska Center for Energy & Power (ACEP) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks is facilitating the ARENA program and they are still in the fundraising stage.
Gourley highlighted the Task Force for telecommunications infrastructure in the Arctic. In addition to the eight Arctic States, Permanent Participants and observers, invited experts also make up this task force. Given that telecommunications infrastructure can get quite expensive in the Arctic region, the task force is working closely with the Arctic Economic Council (AEC). The AEC has its own telecommunications expert group, which the AC is collaborating with, as well as end user communities.
Finally, Gourley discussed the creation of a Marine Protected Areas (MPA) network. This doesn’t necessarily create new protected areas right now, but it brings a network of professionals together that have different responsibilities for MPAs around the Arctic together so they can exchange information. MPAs are not clearly defined, so it is important to being all these people together to see what we can learn.