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Begich to Arctic Experts: U.S. Must Lead on Arctic Issues

Says we need strong leadership at the top of the globe”  

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich praised the progress made to support development in the Arctic during a speech today at the 5th Symposium on the Impacts of an Ice-Diminishing Arctic on Naval and Maritime Operations but warned the White House to redouble its efforts or get left behind as other countries prepare to stake their claims to Arctic resources. 

“Humans have dreamed of the promise of the Arctic,” said Sen. Begich.  “They’ve explored the margins of the polar icepack in ships, and tried to push to the pole in dogsleds and balloons. … But the changes we’ve seen over the past decade have made the Arctic more accessible in a way that others only dreamed about. And not unexpectedly, it’s attracting interest from around the globe.  At this critical juncture, our nation has a responsibility to take full advantage of this promise and assert our leadership in the changing Arctic. That will take significant time, intelligence and investment.”

Sen. Begich also cited signs of progress such as investment in Coast Guard vessels, an increase in commercial and leisure traffic, and additional research opportunities.

  • Two Coast Guard Cutters:  “The Coast Guard’s Polar Star is out of drydock and sailing again. We’re still behind the curve on the icebreaker front, but that’s twice as many icebreakers since I spoke to you last.”
  • Northern Sea Route Traffic is Increasing:  “In 2010, just four ships carrying just over 100 thousand tons of cargo crossed Russia’s Northern Sea Route. Last year, 46 ships did, 10 times as many, carrying one and a quarter million tons. This year a German cruise line is booking tours through the Northwest Passage atop Canada. Nome to Iceland in three weeks.  Book now if you’ve got $50,000 burning a hole in your pocket.”
  • Research Vessel:  “And speaking of ships, the Alaska Region Research Vessel Sikuliaq was launched and is now being prepared for sea trials in advance of its mission of Arctic research over the coming decades.”

Despite the new vessel, Sen. Begich still called for more investment in scientific work in the Arctic.

“My Arctic Research, Monitoring and Observing Act, S.272, would increase Arctic research funding by 20 percent using an existing, but underutilized endowment for Arctic research.  Critics say it undercuts their plans.  I say when changes in the Arctic are occurring faster than the scientific models predict, we’re not doing enough.  Just this week, a new study was published which predicts an ice-free Arctic by the middle of this century, less than 50 years from now.  That’s why my bill also funds Arctic oceans observing, the baseline data that underpins other research.”

Sen. Begich also cited proposed legislation that would position the United States as a leader in efforts to develop the Arctic.

”My Arctic Ambassador bill would put the U.S. on equal diplomatic footing with most other nations before the Arctic Council and … will help U.S. leadership and vision in Arctic policy.  Six of the eight Arctic nations already have Ambassador-level diplomats representing their interests before the Arctic Council.  Japan and Singapore now have Ambassadors to the Arctic.  And they were joined by China, South Korea, India, and Italy in gaining observer level status before Arctic Council.  I welcome their participation. But as the world increasingly turns its attention toward the Arctic, the United States must continue to exert strong leadership at the top of the globe.  And that requires a U.S. Arctic Ambassador.”

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