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Executive Summary for May 19th

We review the latest Arctic news, including reflections on last week’s Arctic Council meeting in Fairbanks, worries that radioactive waste buried in Greenland may surface as the ice sheet melts and advice on how Arctic cruise customers should behave.

Published on May. 19, 2017 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Reflections on Fairbanks

At the Arctic Council meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska, on May 11 U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson, proved amenable to including within the declaration that emerged from the meeting a reference to the Paris climate agreement.

This is notwithstanding the possibility that the U.S. may back out of the international deal to curb carbon emissions.

Tillerson also managed to impress members of Arctic Council working groups with his willingness to listen and the thoughtful questions he asked.

Reassurances that the United States’ position on Arctic issues likely won’t change appreciably have often been received with a healthy dose of skepticism, given that President Donald Trump has opined that climate change is a Chinese-created hoax. Yet the meeting managed to feel much the same as it would have with his predecessor John Kerry at the table, writes Heather Exner-Pirot, managing editor of the Arctic Year Book.

Exner-Pirot offers some interesting on-the-ground observations from the meetings for those looking to catch up.

Greenland’s Thaw Raises Radioactive Worries

Greenland wants to haul Denmark before the United Nations over a dispute about who should pay for the cleanup of the Arctic island’s abandoned American military bases.

As the Arctic Journal reports, the complaint centers on pollution concerns involving military installations built by the United States on Greenland during World War II. The biggest concern involves Camp Century, which was built 3km (1.9 miles) beneath the ice cap and included a nuclear reactor to provide power.

The reactor has long since been removed, but a research paper published last year suggests that radioactive waste at the site, presently locked in ice, will emerge in about 75 years, given the current speed of melt.

There’s some question about whether the complaint will stand, as the politician who registered it, Vittus Qujaukitsoq, has since resigned from Greenland’s cabinet. But U.N. officials have leeway to pursue an investigation without being asked to do so.

Arctic Cruise Guidelines Amount to Common Sense

The Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators has released sets of guidelines for cruise ship customers and visited communities.

As Nunatsiaq News notes, the guidelines include some “simple – and you might think, self-evident – ‘rules’ on how to behave such as: talk to, and not about, the people you meet; think of yourself as an ambassador for your country and culture, as the locals are for theirs; ‘politeness and good manners are always appreciated’; if at all possible, use toilets for human waste; never enter a private house without an invitation; and do not walk on graves.”

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