Arctic Council sponsors climate change study

U.S. to pay lion’s share of $2 million research project on effects of global warming in the Arctic.


MONTREAL — Top-ranking ministers from the Arctic Council’s member governments are expected to support a new circumpolar study on climate change when they meet this October in Barrow, Alaska.

Set up in 1996 to help circumpolar nations co-operate on common issues, the Arctic Council is made up of Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States, with representatives of circumpolar indigenous peoples sitting as non-voting participants.

So far, the council’s eight member nations have been either unwilling or unable to rally much unanimous financial support behind any of its various initiatives.

“It’s still very much a process where a country takes the lead and the lion’s share of the funding, and the others chip in,” said Jim Moore, an official with DIAND and head of the Canadian delegation to the council’s recent get-together in Fairbanks, Alaska.

The United States will probably foot most of the bill for this $2 million study on climate change, called the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA).

The ACIA will look at how climate change affects the environment, human health, society and the economy in circumpolar regions. It will also study the effects of incrased levels of ultra-violet radiation.

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The promoters of this project told officials at the Fairbanks gathering that there’s a pressing need to understand more about the noticeable — and increasingly alarming — changes in the circumpolar climate, such as higher average temperatures, less protective ozone in the atmosphere, more ultra-violet radiation, higher levels of precipitation, changes in the ranges of animals, receding glaciers, more coastal erosion, less sea ice and thinner sea ice.

A better understanding of the changes in climate and ultra-violet radiation that have occurred in the past and are still occurring today may reveal what’s in store for Arctic peoples by 2030 — and as far into the future as 2100.

Canada will participate in the ACIA study, but Moore said he’s not yet sure whether this contribution will be in the form of money — or simply research data.

Moore says Canada has had difficulty persuading other countries to embrace its “Children and Youth of the Arctic” project, while the Saami have also received slim support for their resource-oriented projects.

The University of the Arctic project is still moving ahead, mainly due to the commitment of Finland, Norway and those individual educational institutions, such as Yukon College, that support the UArctic concept.

Its four-year degree, called a BCS or Bachelor of Circumpolar Studies, will focus on issues common to circumpolar peoples, the physical and natural environment, sustainability, and cultures of the circumpolar world.

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Students will study at circumpolar educational institutions, such as Nunavut Arctic College, for two years, but they may also take courses via other means, such as as intensive semesters or the Internet.

A draft course outline for a BCS “101” course on the circumpolar world includes information on circumpolar peoples, geography, political systems and social structures, and issues such as global climate change and land use.

The UArctic recently set up a task force to look at using telecommunications as a way of teaching courses over long distances.

But a UArctic document says “technology poor” regions won’t be able to connect to a UArctic network without “considerable political, financial, technical, and infrastructure support beyond what the university itself can provide.”

UArctic organizers already acknowledge that gaining this support from all Arctic Council member nations will be a major challenge.

You can find more information on the Arctic Council at http://arctic-council.usgs.gov. You can find more information on UArctic at www.urova.fi/home/uarctic.

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