Last week I led our delegation to GLACIER, the Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience, in Anchorage, Alaska. The U.S.-hosted conference convened foreign ministers of Arctic nations and key non-Arctic states with scientists, policymakers, and indigenous communities from Alaska and the Arctic to highlight opportunities and challenges in addressing climate change in this fragile region. The conference also included public sessions on a range of issues including strengthening emergency response, development of renewable energy, and community health.
As part of the public sessions, I chaired a panel on “Protecting Communities and the Environment through Climate and Air Quality Projects,” which included discussions of the challenges of providing clean, reliable energy in remote communities; the particular environmental and public health needs of indigenous communities; and opportunities for local and global cooperation to address black carbon in the Arctic. Black carbon is the third largest warming agent globally, and because it causes ice melt, its effect on the Arctic is even more pronounced. In addition to its impact on the climate, black carbon also affects the health of local communities, causing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Our panel highlighted international mechanisms and our programs to address black carbon, including our effort to reduce black carbon emissions in the largest city in the Arctic Circle.
Also showcased at the GLACIER Summit was the EPA-supported Local Environmental Observer (LEO) network, created by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. Alaska Native LEO members raise awareness about emerging climate change-related events and develop adaptation strategies to address environmental and public health concerns. LEO provides a critical bridge between local knowledge, traditional knowledge, and Western science. Through our two-year U.S. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, we are supporting the expansion of this network across the polar region.
Another discussion, “Strengthening International Preparedness and Cooperation for Emergency Response,” highlighted the efforts of the Alaska Regional Response Team (ARRT). This partnership of state and federal agencies makes plans and preparations to support the EPA, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, who are responsible for responding to oil spills and hazardous materials releases anywhere in the state. The ARRT works with a special emphasis on overcoming the unique challenges of responding in the Arctic. The session emphasized working closely with communities to incorporate indigenous knowledge into response planning.
To close the conference, President Obama delivered an impassioned call for international action on climate change and to protect our shared Arctic. President Obama is the first president to visit America’s Arctic and to witness firsthand the impacts of climate change on this region. During his trip, President Obama also visited with Alaska Natives in Kotzebue and Dillingham.
I am proud to have represented EPA and the United States at this event, grateful for the hospitality we were shown by Arctic communities, and inspired by their commitment and resilience in meeting the climate challenge. My sincere thanks to all of them, and everyone who is contributing to the preservation and protection of our shared Arctic.