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Executive Summary for July 1st

In this weekly roundup, we review and analyze the latest news and key developments in the Arctic, including a tripartite pledge on cleaner energy, new data on permafrost feedback and Denmark’s increased surveillance and coast guard spending.

Published on July 1, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

North American Leaders Pledge Cleaner Energy

The leaders of the United States, Canada and Mexico committed on June 29 to producing half of North America’s electricity through clean power generation by 2025 – and reiterated their pledge to collaborate with indigenous peoples in managing natural resources in the Arctic.

Nunatsiaq online reports that at the 2016 North American Leaders’ summit in Ottawa, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto – dubbed the “Three Amigos” in the media – pledged their countries to work together on implementing the 2015 Paris global climate deal that aims to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C in the 21st century.

Their plan, according to CBC, includes new infrastructure for renewable energy and a 40-45 percent reduction in methane emissions from the oil and gas sectors, also by 2025.

The three leaders reaffirmed Obama’s and Trudeau’s earlier agreement to consult with indigenous peoples and use traditional local knowledge in making decisions about the Arctic.

CBC also noted that at a state dinner at Rideau Hall, Ottawa, attended by Trudeau and Nieto on June 28, guests were left “speechless” by the quality of the smoked caribou from Rankin Inlet, the Inuit hamlet on Kudlulik peninsula in Nunavut.

Scientists Detail How Permafrost Thaw Releases Greenhouse Gases

Researchers studying the mechanism by which thawing permafrost releases greenhouse gases found moisture levels in the soil are more important than temperature.

According to Environmental Research Web, ecosystem scientist Christina Schadel, one of 24 experts behind the report, said, “Our results show that increasing temperatures have a large effect on carbon release from permafrost, but that changes in soil moisture conditions have an even greater effect.”

She said that permafrost carbon feedback – the release of greenhouse gases from the thawing land – “will be stronger when a larger percentage of the permafrost zone undergoes thaw in a dry and oxygen-rich environment.”

The Arctic is the fastest-warming area on the planet. How the permafrost responds to thawing depends on local topography – some areas slump and become wetter while others become separated more from the water table and dry out.

Meanwhile, a National Aeronautics and Space Administration study found that 90 percent of satellite and airborne data on Arctic CO2 emissions in fact comes from other parts of the globe. The difficulty of collecting data in the Arctic winter means that much of the data on carbon flow has to be sourced remotely, often from satellites, and is not Arctic-specific; the scientists emphasized the importance of gathering data from the lower atmosphere to keep a close eye on the increasing amounts of thawing Arctic permafrost.

Denmark Boosts Spending on Surveillance and Coast Guards

Denmark announced a proposed increase in defense spending in the Arctic on June 27, principally to improve surveillance and boost coast guard activities.

The modest increase in spending – just 120 million kroner ($18 million) on a total annual budget of 20 billion kroner ($3 billion) – is not a sign that the country is seeking to bulk up its military presence in the region, according to the Arctic Journal.

The new spend would primarily be focused on better surveillance in Greenland and enable the country to honor its pledge as an Arctic Council member to boost coast guard capacity, needed for pollution response and search-and-rescue activities. “No matter what we do in the Arctic, we need to start with surveillance. If something happens, we need to know what is going on,” defense minister Peter Christensen said.

Mikkel Runge Olesen from the Danish Institute for International Studies said, “The Danish armed forces in the Arctic fulfil many civilian tasks, such as search and rescue at sea and environmental and fisheries monitoring … We believe these projects will cost us more as global warming opens the Arctic to shipping.”

In the past, Denmark’s intelligence agency, FE, has expressed concern about Russian and Chinese activity in the Arctic. Christensen said any threat remains hypothetical.

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