U.S. State Department’s 2nd Arctic Council Virtual Stakeholder Outreach Forum

In the first stakeholder session since December 2014, the U.S. State Department presented an outreach forum for Arctic stakeholders about the upcoming chairmanship, just 10 days away from the official transfer.

Admiral Robert Papp, Jr., the U.S. Special Representative to the Arctic, and Julia Gourley, Senior Arctic Official (SAO), briefed the online and teleconference participants about relevant events.  Fran Ulmer, acting in her capacity as Special Advisor to the President on Arctic Science and Policy, was also on the phone for a few brief comments and questions.  Nikoosh Carlo moderated the event.


“There were misperceptions the U.S. is opposed to [the AEC], but we are not.  We are interested in sustainable economic development in the Arctic—I don’t know how we could not be.” –Adm. Papp

The presentation slides are included with this issue as a PDF.


Adm. Papp recapped his activities since the last stakeholder forum.  On the job for 10 months, Adm. Papp has traveled to all Arctic Council member nations in order to present the U.S. draft agenda for its two-year chairmanship, request feedback, and discuss the ways in which each member state could contribute to the agenda.


Adm. Papp said the meeting in Russia was closely scrutinized, and he did not have approval to meet with the Russian SAO, Vladimir Barbin, until after the State Department reviewed the meeting objectives and understood the need to maintain cooperative communications with Russia for the Arctic Council.  Barbin offered the most constructive comments and additions for the U.S. draft agenda.


During these meetings and with ministries of defense, parliamentarians, scientists, think tanks, Alaskans, and U.S. lawmakers, the following themes emerged:

  • Everyone agreed the U.S. agenda is “balanced” in that “everyone seemed to find something appealing.”
  • Everyone agreed the U.S. chair agenda is “the most ambitious chairmanship program ever presented.”
  • Constituents in Alaska and across the Arctic nations ask why the U.S. is “less enthusiastic” about economic development. Papp insists this is a misrepresentation.  “I’ve spent a lot of time talking about this, and I think most of it focuses on the Arctic Economic Council (AEC)…there were misperceptions the U.S. is opposed to it, but we are not.  We are interested in sustainable economic development in the Arctic—I don’t know how we could not be.  Citizens in Alaska would benefit from improved economic development and we are squarely behind that.  There are disputes about how the AEC fits within the Arctic Council and that’s a fair concern, and we are still negotiating that.  The AEC will be continued under our chairmanship.  It is new and is bound to have growing pains, but we will continue it.”
  • Concerns were raised consistently about how the U.S. will work with Russia within the Arctic Council. Papp said, “Russia is a partner within the Arctic Council, nothing gets done in the council unless you have all eight countries on a consensus basis.  We will continue to foster that relationship, even as other tensions continue.  We must work to keep the lines of communications open with the Russians.”
  • Everyone voiced excitement about U.S.
“I’d be the first to say we haven’t devoted a lot of resources for the challenges coming up.”  –Adm. Papp
  • leadership of the council. “There is always excitement about change and a new leader… but then challenges really begin with new leadership,” Adm. Papp said.
  • The other seven members raised questions about the U.S. commitment to the Arctic, pointing to the federal budget, specifically about limited funding for icebreakers, deep-water ports, and other needs. “I’d be the first to say we haven’t devoted a lot of resources for the challenges coming up.”  Papp said the Arctic could garner domestic attention through conferences and a robust public diplomacy program that highlight Arctic opportunities, challenges, and social responsibilities, which will help generate interest in more funding.


Julia Gourley gave an overview of the Arctic Council’s structure, highlighting the council’s 20th anniversary next year and emphasizing it is a “high-level intergovernmental forum that presents cooperation and coordination of indigenous peoples of the Arctic….  Mandates are broad and military security is explicitly excluded.  The council’s focus is on sustainable development and environmental protection.”  See slide 3 of the attached PowerPoint PDF for a complete image of the Arctic Council’s structure, including observers, Permanent Participants, task forces, and working groups.


Gourley described the U.S. chairmanship team, consisting of Secretary of State John Kerry as the Chair of the Arctic Council, Adm. Papp acting as Coordinator of the U.S. Chairmanship, Fran Ulmer continuing as Special Advisor to the President on Arctic Science and Policy, Ambassador David Balton as Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials (SAO), and Julia Gourley maintaining her position as SAO for the U.S.


Gourley outlined the three overarching goals of the U.S. chairmanship:

  1. Continue strengthening the Arctic Council as an intergovernmental forum. This includes consideration of the 16 nations waiting to join the already 30 observers of the council, and what they may be able to add to the discussions.
  2. Introduce new long-term priorities to the council, such as how to share resources for Arctic Ocean infrastructure and improve telecommunications.
  3. Raise awareness about climate change and the Arctic’s strategic importance domestically and around the world.


Three thematic pillars of the U.S. chairmanship agenda focus on Arctic communities, the Arctic Ocean, and Arctic climate.  Gourley read through the details, as presented on slide 6, but elaborated on the “Arctic Ocean” topic.

  • Marine Protected Areas Network: The U.S. hoped to persuade member states to work toward setting aside 10 percent of the Arctic marine area to protect biodiversity, but this did not have consensus.  Member states said this is a global goal and should not be tied directly to the Arctic Ocean.
  • Arctic Ocean Cooperation Task Force: As noted in the previous edition of the Arctic Report, member states are concerned about participating in a Regional Seas Program without first exploring the need.  The task force was formed for that purpose.
  • Arctic Ocean Acidification: Gourley said there should be more focus on the rapid increase of acidification, which is happening the fastest in the Arctic.  She explained the need for public education, the impact on climate change, and the larger economic impact domestically and worldwide.

Discussing the U.S. economic development focus, Gourley described as “unfair” the criticism aimed at the U.S. for “not supporting” the AEC, which she said is “absolutely untrue.”  Gourley said the U.S. will consult with AEC on economic development in the Arctic region, and will invite AEC to participate in working groups and bring business perspectives to Arctic Council activities, as well as the Arctic Coast Guard Forum.


Gourley discussed telecommunications infrastructure in the context of economic development, which can help create jobs across the Arctic, but building it will be a challenge.  Referring to the previous day’s Canadian Embassy event, Gourley said the telecommunications industry and investment firm (such as Barclays and Guggenheim) representatives had a lively conversation about those challenges, including the low return on investment from serving a relatively small population.  Such conversations often generate creative thinking about financial assessment, and investment firms voiced interest in making this happen.


Regarding renewable energy, Gourley said there is more to do in Alaska, even considering the difficult financial challenges.  The Arctic Energy Summit the Institute of the North is helping to coordinate in Fairbanks on Sept. 28-30 will present a unique opportunity to discuss these challenges and find possible solutions.


Gourley also noted the U.S. interest in collaborating with industry, researchers and lawmakers to increase access to water and sewer systems in remote communities, but said other Arctic nations are not as interested in working on this issue because most are more developed than the U.S. Arctic.

“There is no money in the Arctic Council process to make things happen.” – Fran Ulmer


Gourley listed the federal agencies Arctic stakeholders could contact for information about how to coordinate on U.S. chairmanship projects (on slide 9).


The Senior Arctic Official and Sustainable Development Working Group meeting schedules from June 2015 through spring 2017 are listed on slide 11.


During the question and answer session, Fran Ulmer spoke on a few points.


Ulmer said the Arctic Council does not fund projects that are within national jurisdictions such as the construction of ports and telecommunications systems.  The Arctic Council is a forum for the member states, Permanent Participants, and observers to share assessments, expertise and insight and present different perspectives on how to achieve goals.


“There is no money in the Arctic Council process to make things happen,” she said.  “I talk to people in Alaska and they expect because the U.S. is chairing, that means there is money attached, but people need to know that’s not what the Arctic Council does or what it’s about.”


Ulmer mentioned the Ocean Cooperation Initiative, noting she was attending a meeting at the University of Washington with Arctic fisheries scientists who are analyzing what is known about how climate change impacts fish and wildlife in the Arctic region.  While the Arctic Council may not establish a sustainable management regime for the central Arctic Ocean fisheries, it can promote a collaborative research assessment on this issue.


Ulmer also encouraged Alaskans to review the National Arctic Strategy, its Implementation Plan, and the Executive Order that establishes the Arctic Executive Steering Committee, saying it is important for Alaskans to become familiar with federal agencies and their priorities.  Alaskans should remember to keep the domestic and international spheres separate and think about how they’re related, and consider the domestic agenda in the context of the Arctic Policy bill recently passed by the Alaska Legislature.


Frank Prautzsch asked Gourley how people can become involved with the council’s task forces and how members are selected. Gourley said members were already selected for the U.S.  U.S., Sweden and Russia co-chairmanship of the Task Force on Scientific Cooperation, and Norway will co-chair with the U.S. the Task Force on Marine Cooperation.  The co-chair for the Task Force on Telecommunications Infrastructure has not been finalized yet.  Gourley encouraged all telecommunications experts to reach out to be part of the task force, and said the State Department is also looking for expertise for the Arctic Ocean Cooperation Task Force.


Gourley mentioned that Arctic Council meetings are not open to the public, and only accredited delegations are admitted.  There will be many side events to educate the public about the actions of the Arctic Council.


Prautzsch asked what forum would address both observations and concerns about military movements in the Arctic region by Russian and NATO forces, and how the Arctic Council will work with the Arctic Executive Steering Committee.  Adm. Papp said the Northern Chiefs of Defense conferences are focused on the Arctic.  He emphasized the Arctic region has been “relatively conflict-free, despite rhetoric that isn’t necessarily consigned to military operations,” pointing to OCS resource claims that have been agreed upon in a relatively orderly fashion under the Law of the Sea.


To answer the second question, Adm. Papp said, “The implementation plan distressed me from the start because it touches 30 different agencies, which makes it hard to gain consensus.  The White House looked at that and agreed, creating this steering committee to lend order and discipline for the implementation plan.”  Adm. Papp did not explain how the Arctic Council will work with this committee.


Bridget Anderson of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation asked why no SAO meetings will be held above the Arctic Circle.  Gourley responded there were no venues and accommodations big enough to hold at least 250 people, though the State Department reviewed the options.


Judith Miller in Gov. Bill Walker’s office said she is working with the Governor’s finance advisor, Sterling Gallagher, about how the state can be more supportive on an Arctic response plan.  Miller asked for the opportunity to brief Adm. Papp about the state’s efforts so far, and wanted to know why the Coast Guard is taking so long to provide planning criteria for the Aleutians.


Erica Dingman, Director of Arctic in Context at the World Policy Institute, asked if the Arctic Council will address education in the region.  Gourley said the Sustainable Development Working Group mandates that work, which has not been a major focus yet.  But the Arctic Council created the University of the Arctic , a consortium of over 180 universities, and the

Gourley said subsistence is a “politically tricky domestic issue,” but the Council continues to promote the health of the Arctic ecosystem.


council relies on its work on how to improve education in the region.


An unidentified caller said the Task Force on Arctic Marine Oil Pollution Prevention did not seem to complete its work, and asked what the Arctic states plan to do to build on the task force framework and move toward preventing oil spills.  Gourley said the task force did complete its work, but the Arctic Council has not yet implemented the recommendations and plans to discuss them further.


Jennine Jordan, Vice President of Gana-A’Yoo Ltd and business representative for the Arctic Athabaskan Council, asked whether the council will address food security or affordable housing.  Gourley said these issues will not be addressed under the U.S. chairmanship, but they can be brought up by the U.S. or another member nation.  If a member or Permanent Participant has a project proposal, they can bring it forward.  Gourley added later that subsistence in the U.S. is a “politically tricky domestic issue,” and the council continues to promote the health of the Arctic ecosystem.


Marc-Andre Dubois of the World Wildlife Federation’s Global Arctic Program asked Gourley to elaborate on the U.S. goal to strengthen the Arctic Council.  Gourley said the State Department is looking internally at how the council operates, whether the working groups meet the needs of the council, and how outside groups such as AEC, International Regulators Forum and Arctic Coast Guard Forum strengthen or complement the Arctic Council.


The U.S. will also take the lead on archiving the council’s proceedings, improving transparency in the council process, and building the long-term record.  Gourley explained that each time the chair changed hands, the Secretariat’s records had to transfer from one country to the next.  The U.S. wants these records to be centrally located in a digital form and more transparent.  Finland is interested in continuing these initiatives when it assumes the chairmanship in 2017.