Op-ed: Arctic Council ‘pause’ endangers humanity’s united stand against climate change

Council can weather divisions among members

Seven of the eight member nations in the Arctic Council, whose May 2021 meeting is seen in this screenshot, jointly announced in March they are “pausing” their collaboration with the eighth member — Russia — in reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that began in February. (Screenshot courtesy of Arctic Council)

By Barry Scott Zellen
Special to Nunatsiaq News

April 22 is celebrated around the world as Earth Day, a symbolic day of unity on issues related to the global movement to protect our environment and to stop climate change.

The Arctic, more than any region on Earth, has come to illustrate the power of a unified response to the climate threat. The Arctic Council, formed in 1996, has nurtured an enduring consensus among its diverse ecosystem of asymmetrical actors, whether state, Indigenous, or non-state, for more than a quarter century.

Barry Scott Zellen is a visiting scholar in the Department of Geography at the University of Connecticut. (Photo courtesy of Barry Scott Zellen)

But all that changed on March 3, when the the Arctic Council’s seven democratic member states  announced their historic “pause” of forthcoming council participation, in protest of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

This is not the first time tensions over Russian aggression in Ukraine strained the council’s impressive track record for circumpolar unity. In 2014, after Russia’s first assault upon Ukraine, the United States and Canada jointly boycotted a meeting held in Moscow but soon thereafter rejoined their fellow members in the spirit of Arctic co-operation.

While Russia’s actions in Ukraine are reprehensible, boycotting all Arctic Council meetings while Russia, the eighth member, holds the council’s rotating chair is as illogical as shuttering the UN General Assembly, or putting a pause on meetings of the UN Security Council.

The issues facing the Arctic — of which climate change is perhaps most pressing — cannot be paused.

Indeed, Russia’s portion of the Arctic represents fully half the circumpolar world, spanning 11 time zones, with the largest Arctic population, most robust Arctic economy, and most diverse mosaic of Indigenous and minority cultures.

Not long ago, the Arctic Council confronted a deep division in its ranks that threatened the very consensus that undergirds its foundation. That was just three years ago, and the offending member state was not Russia, but the United States. The issue that drove a wedge between the members was that of climate change, long a unifying issue on the council.

Despite this temporary collapse in consensus, the Arctic Council survived. The organization proved as resilient as the diverse collective of Arctic peoples, states, cultures and organizations it represents.

If it can survive that collapse in consensus, there is no reason why it can’t do the same again now. As Earth Day reminds us, we must look not only beyond the war in Ukraine, but ahead to a restoration of circumpolar unity — so that we can once again step up to face this danger confronting all the world, together.

Barry Scott Zellen is a visiting scholar in the Department of Geography at the University of Connecticut, and has authored or edited a dozen books on Arctic, Indigenous and strategic issues. More about his research can be found at BarryZellen.com and SmallerPlanet.org.

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(6) Comments:

  1. Posted by S on

    “humanity’s united stand against climate change”

    What a shameful headline? Why or how would humanity unite against nature? To what end?

    No one in my humanity is interested to unite against nature? Yours?

    • Posted by John K on

      I can’t tell if you legitimately don’t understand or if this is a ham-fisted attempt at climate change denial.

      • Posted by Venn Diagram on

        It has become increasingly apparent over time that S speaks a cryptic language governed by an alternative semantics only he or she can truly understand.

  2. Posted by Observer on

    On the one hand, we have the Americans temporarily acting like idiots.

    On the other hand, an ongoing genocide, mass murder, mass rape, intentional targeting of civilians, institutional use of war crimes such as the torture and execution of prisoners on the part of the Russians.

    And you consider those somehow equivalent?

    “Hey, Bill, I know you’re a serial killing rapist, but hey, glad to see you here chairing the meeting about promoting energy-efficient houses. No, no, the screaming for help from the trunk of your car isn’t bothering anyone.”

  3. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    It’s pretty apparent that authoritarian regimes are flexing their muscles. Russia, China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, Venezuela, and that’s just to name a few. The manipulation of citizens using misinformation, social media, and propaganda is getting very scary.

    When countries like Russia not only act aggressively, but break all civilized norms and repeatedly commit heinous war crimes, western nations need to act. And it may come down to military force by NATO in the end.

    Russia must remain a pariah until they cease all hostilities, pay full reparations, and their leaders are held responsible and stand trial.

    • Posted by Pork Pie on

      After well over a decade of fruitless military adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq the West now stands hobbled by fatigue and aversion at such pointless expense, also by uncontrolled debt and growing inflation.

      At the same time the West is also increasingly divided by its own quiet civil war over its cultural obsessions around issues of race and gender, encouraged and fomented by our enemies. The Roe v Wade controversy bubbling over in the US at present is a good example. It might seem unthinkable and extreme, but it is not hard to see Balkanization of the American state in the not too far off future.

      At the global level, the unipolar world of the post-cold war era, dominated by the US and its allies is eroding and we are witnessing the beginnings of a re-alignment before of our eyes.

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