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Executive Summary for March 11th

In this weekly roundup, we review and analyze the latest news and key developments in the Arctic, including the bold new Arctic agreement between Canada and the U.S. and questions about the protection of sensitive caribou calving grounds from development in Nunavut.

Published on Mar. 11, 2016 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

Bold Arctic Agreement Released by Canada and the U.S.

This week U.S. President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met in Washington to announce a partnership on action in the Arctic, as well as cuts to greenhouse gases.

The two leaders released a joint statement that outlined the key objectives of the shared Arctic leadership, including the conservation of Arctic biodiversity, the incorporation of science and traditional knowledge into decision making, commitment to building a sustainable Arctic economy and support for strong Arctic communities.

“We are impressed by the depth of the commitment to support a strong Arctic future for people and species,” David Miller, president and CEO of WWF-Canada said in a statement.

Both countries will base their decisions about the development and operations of commercial activities, including shipping, fishing and oil and gas exploration and development on scientific evidence, and will meet the highest safety and environmental standards, according to the statement.

Arctic shipping policies will be reviewed to account for important ecological and cultural areas, safety and security, and to find ways to address the risks of heavy fuel oil use and black carbon emissions.

Canada has offered to host the next round of talks to develop a precautionary, science-based approach to commercial fishing in Arctic waters and a binding international agreement to prevent unregulated fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean.

The two countries agreed that if oil and gas exploration and development continue, they must meet science-based standards and ensure control over the drilling wells and robust emergency response measures.

Finally, Trudeau and Obama vowed to improve resilience of Arctic communities, by working to implement land-claim agreements, deploying renewable energy in communities that depend on diesel and to help develop their ability to adapt to climate change.

“These are historic steps that both countries should be very proud of,” wrote Niel Lawrence, Alaska Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, in the NRDC staff blog.

In addition, both countries will aim to cut methane emissions by 40 to 45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025. As of next month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will launch a system to collect information about companies methane emissions. Environment and Climate Change Canada will regulate methane emissions from new and existing oil and gas operations, according to the statement.

Nunavut Changes Stance on Caribou Protection

Development on caribou calving grounds and key migration corridors within the Nunavut territory will now be considered on a case-by-case basis, the Government of Nunavut told stakeholders at a land-use planning meeting in Iqaluit this week.

But the announcement caught many off-guard. The news was seen by many as a reversal of the government’s earlier position. CBC News reported that the government had called for no development in those areas in its first submission to the planning commission in 2014.

Nunavut is in the midst of putting together its first territory-wide land-use plan. At the center of the discussions is whether to allow development, such as mining, in caribou calving grounds. The draft plan recommends protecting calving grounds in areas with low mineral potential, allowing responsible development in calving grounds and corridors on a case-by-case basis, the Canadian Press reported.

Some groups that support mining for economic development back the new approach. The unemployment rate in the territory is the highest in the country.

The hunters who rely on the migratory caribou herds had lobbied the government for increased protection in an effort to boost the health of the herds, whose numbers have been in decline, according to CBC. In a letter to the Government of Nunavut, the Kivalliq Wildlife Board (KWB), which represents the region’s hunters and trappers, called the decision “irresponsible.”

“Mining in caribou calving grounds could have detrimental impacts on hunters in the Kivalliq region,” Stanley Adjuk, president of the KWB, wrote in the letter, published online by the Nunatsiaq News.

Caribou herds across the country are in steep decline. The Bathurst herd found in the Northwest Territories (NWT) and Nunavut dropped from 186,000 animals in 2003 to about 22,000 in 2015. (Arctic Deeply reported on attempts to save the Bathurst caribou herd in February.)

Last spring, the Nunavut Impact Review board granted Tundra Copper an exploration permit within the bluenose East calving grounds, against the advice of the NWT government. But many in NWT didn’t hear about it until last week, CBC News reported.

Greenland’s Darkening Ice Sheet

More bad news for Greenland’s ice sheet. A recent scientific report found that the sheet is getting darker and losing its ability to reflect solar energy, causing it to melt even faster.

The study found that changes in the size of the ice crystals have accelerated the warming process, reports Scientific American. As the snowpack warms and ages, the snow grains form clumps and become larger, making it less reflective to both visible and non-visible radiation, according to a Washington Post report.

The researchers used satellites to measure the ice sheet’s reflectivity, or albedo. They confirmed that it has been getting darker since 1996 – and the ice is melting more quickly – even though soot levels on the ice sheet have declined in recent decades.

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Top image: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens as President Barack Obama speaks during an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Thursday, March 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)