Arctic Strategy cover imageThe U.S. National Strategy for the Arctic, announced by the White House on May 10, includes this: “The Arctic region’s energy resources factor into a core component of our national security strategy: energy security. The region holds sizable proved and potential oil and natural gas resources that will likely continue to provide valuable supplies to meet U.S. energy needs.” What does this say about White House accountability on climate change? 

National Strategy for the Arctic Region Announced

National Strategy for the Arctic Region

The strategy document includes this key paragraph (page 7):

“Provide for Future United States Energy Security –The Arctic region’s energy resources factor into a core component of our national security strategy: energy security. The region holds sizable proved and potential oil and natural gas resources that will likely continue to provide valuable supplies to meet U.S. energy needs. Continuing to responsibly develop Arctic oil and gas resources aligns with the United States “all of the above” approach to developing new domestic energy sources, including renewables, expanding oil and gas production, and increasing efficiency and conservation efforts to reduce our reliance on imported oil and strengthen our nation’s energy security. Within the context of this broader energy security strategy, including our economic, environmental and climate policy objectives, we are committed to working with stakeholders, industry, and other Arctic states to explore the energy resource base, develop and implement best practices, and share experiences to enable the environmentally responsible production of oil and natural gas as well as renewable energy.”

The report acknowledges consequences of climate change, but the only mention of the connection between Arctic development and carbon is this single sentence:  “Uncoordinated development and the consequent increase in pollution such as emissions of black carbon or other substances from fossil fuel combustion – could have unintended consequences on climate trends, fragile ecosystems, and Arctic communities.”

The report has no discussion of the need to reduce dependence on fossil energy sources.  In the absence of a coherent sustainable energy strategy to decarbonize the energy system, the administration’s Arctic strategy looks like business as usual, with oil and gas development objectives that will feed the warming that already is disrupting the region, while adding to the acidification of Arctic waters.

From the World Wildlife Fund climate blog, U.S. Unveils Arctic Strategy while Announcing that Atmospheric Concentrations of Carbon Dioxide Have Surpassed Historic Level, posted by Nick Sundt on May 13:

“The White House on Friday (10 May 2013) released a National Strategy for the Arctic Region, as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that daily average atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) had on 9 May surpassed for the first time on record 400.00 parts per million (ppm) at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. The rise in COconcentrations, largely driven by the burning of coal, oil and natural gas, is rapidly warming the Arctic.

“The strategy acknowledges that “the current warming trend is unlike anything previously recorded” and that “there may be potentially profound environmental consequences of continued ocean warming and Arctic ice melt.” The document recognizes the Administration’s “global objective of combating the climatic changes that are driving these environmental conditions.”

“But the strategy also invokes U.S. security interests to argue that that “[c]ontinuing to responsibly develop Arctic oil and gas resources aligns with the United States `all of the above’ approach to developing new domestic energy sources.” In the absence of a U.S. low-carbon development strategy, is not clear how the U.S. ultimately will reconcile expanded fossil fuel production in the region with its commitment to combat climate change.”

The strategy identifies three core objectives:

  1. Advance United States Security Interests – We will enable our vessels and aircraft to operate, consistent with international law, through, under, and over the airspace and waters of the Arctic, support lawful commerce, achieve a greater awareness of activity in the region, and intelligently evolve our Arctic infrastructure and capabilities, including ice-capable platforms as needed. U.S. security in the Arctic encompasses a broad spectrum of activities, ranging from those supporting safe commercial and scientific operations to national defense.
  2. Pursue Responsible Arctic Region Stewardship – We will continue to protect the Arctic environment and conserve its resources; establish and institutionalize an integrated Arctic management framework; chart the Arctic region; and employ scientific research and traditional knowledge to increase understanding of the Arctic.
  3. Strengthen International Cooperation – Working through bilateral relationships and multilateral bodies, including the Arctic Council, we will pursue arrangements that advance collective interests, promote shared Arctic state prosperity, protect the Arctic environment, and enhance regional security, and we will work toward U.S. accession to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Law of the Sea Convention).”

From the WWF post, on the administration’s Arctic management working group report:

Arctic Task Fore rpt cover imageDavid J. Hayes, Deputy Secretary of the Interior, said in a statement released by the Department of Interior on Friday that the strategy “reaffirms and builds upon” the work of a group that he chairs, the Interagency Working Group on Coordination of Domestic Energy Development and Permitting in Alaska.  On 4 April, that group released a report,Managing for the Future in a Rapidly Changing Arctic.  Hayes said that the strategy’s call for Integrated Arctic Management “emerged from the Working Group’s chronicling of the dramatic environmental, cultural, and economic changes that are taking place in the Arctic region…Integrated Arctic Management provides a mechanism for reconciling these potentially-competing interests in the future. It calls for a science-based, whole-of-government approach to stewardship and planning in the Arctic that integrates and balances environmental, economic, and cultural needs and objectives.”

Among those with a keen interest in the Arctic is the oil and gas industry.  According to the working group’s report, “[d]uring the coming decades, the oil and gas industry expects to develop onshore and offshore oil and gas resources in the U.S. Arctic.” The report says that favorable regulatory conditions are among the factors that the industry considers central to expanded offshore oil and gas development.  The working group says that the Arctic “is among the fastest-warming regions on earth” and discusses in detail the actual and projected impacts of climate change in the region.  However it does not explicitly acknowledge that oil and gas development in the region will fuel further rises in atmospheric greenhouse gases – with implications that extend far beyond the Arctic.

See the full WWF post, with further discussion and graphics and links to additional resources, here.

Also see the WWF climate blog post: Scientists Release Findings of Arctic Ocean Acidification Assessment, Warn of Emerging Impacts on Vital Commercial Fisheries

Earlier CSW post: White House energy policy talk has ‘all of the above’ except climate change