( The Globe and Mail, 15 April 2013) -- China, India and big oil will all be welcome at a new circumpolar forum launched Monday by Iceland’s President Ólafur Grímsson in a move that seems certain to irk some northern nations. The Arctic Council – the group that includes Canada and the seven other circumpolar countries – has been grappling with a slew of demands for participation from China, India and other non-northern nations. Now the launch of the Arctic Circle, which Mr. Grímsson announced on the same day Iceland became the first western nation to sign a free-trade pact with China, will be seen as complicating, if not challenging, the primacy of the Arctic Council in the rapidly changing north. The Arctic Circle forum will be open to all. “Google is interested,” Mr. Grímsson said during a launch speech at the National Press Club in Washington, adding so too were those countries, such as France, currently frustrated by being relegated to non-speaking observer status at the Arctic Council. “We want to be an open tent or a public square,” Mr. Grímsson said, in a pointed reference to the limited membership and governmental Arctic Council that critics regard as exclusive and unwelcoming. “We hope to foster a new type of dialogue,” he said, starting in October when the first gathering of the Arctic Circle opens in Iceland’s capital Reykjavik. ... Mr. Grímsson was careful to say that the Arctic Circle wasn’t intended as a rival or replacement for the Arctic Council. But just as Davos – the high-profile annual gathering of political and business leaders, celebrities and NGOs – often eclipses the more staid and official fora, it’s clear that the Arctic Circle is intended as a high-profile, dynamic conference where India and Google and Greenpeace – and countless others with a stake in the Arctic – need not wait for years hoping they may be allowed to speak.
Posted 16 April 2013; 12:43:01 AM. Permalink
(CBC News via Eye on the Arctic, 8 April 2013) -- The principal of Peter Pitseolak High School in Cape Dorset, a community in Canada’s eastern Arctic territory of Nunavut, is trying to improve arts programming in the school. Mike Soares says he was surprised to find that arts were not a strong subject in the school when he arrived in the hamlet three years ago since Cape Dorset is famous around the world for Inuit art. “It had pretty much got to the point where art was just paint by numbers,” he said. He says he has a good reason to try to turn that around. “Some of our students over the years have left school because they’ve found that they can produce art and sell it and then school becomes less important, in the same way that in Fort McMurray kids might leave school to go work in the oil patch,” said Soares. Almost half the kids have a carver in their family. Soares has been working with a foundation willing to pay local artists to come and work in the school. Last week, some grade 11 students met with Wen Xie, a Chinese jade carver who was in town for a month to work with other artists. Xie said he feels that students are interested when he talks about the history of carving in China. “I know a lot of kids, like 13, 14, also younger, like 11 years old, they don’t come to school, but they do some soapstone carving. I try to find them to bring them here. I really want to find them,” said Xie. Soares is also working with the National Art Gallery and the Northwest Company to repatriate some works of art so that he can put them on display in the school and inspire others.
Posted 14 April 2013; 2:20:32 PM. Permalink
(CBC News, 21 March 2013) -- Over the next couple of days, residents of Iqaluit may see pedestrians carrying some strange-looking equipment on their backs. They’re members of a team working for Google Maps to photograph the city for Google Street View. Team members wear a backpack called a trekker, which has a camera system mounted on it to capture 360-degree street level images. Chris Kalluk, who works with Nunavut Tunngavik in the land department in Cambridge Bay, is one of the trekker operators. "I want more people to be able to visit here without leaving their homes,” he said. “Also to be able to see the place before they come up. They'd have an essential feeling of what it's like up here before they actually move up here or come visit." Kalluk said he's excited to be part of Google's first winter visit to Nunavut. Last summer, the company was in Cambridge Bay taking photos there for Street View. The Google team will be in Iqaluit until Sunday.
Posted 22 March 2013; 9:01:15 PM. Permalink
( Duncan Geere/Wired.co.uk, 16 March 2013) -- Greenland's government has fallen in the wake of an argument in the country over the extent to which foreign oil and mining countries should be allowed to operate in the Arctic. The left-leaning government of the Prime Minister, Kuupik Kleist was rejected by voters in the Arctic country, which has a population of 56,000 that is 89 percent Inuit. The election was dominated by a debate over foreign investors working in Greenland. Speculation that a company called London Mining was planning to use 2,000 Chinese workers to build a vast iron ore mine to serve steel mills in Beijing, and the activities of Cairn Energy who drilled for oil off the Greenland coast in 2011 divided opinion. The election was won in the end by the Siumut party, which secured 42% of the vote, allowing it to form a coalition government, led by Alequa Hammond. She pledged to increase royalties on mining operations, and be more critical of foreign investments. "We are welcoming companies and countries that are interested in investing in Greenland," she told the BBC. "At the same time we have to be aware of the consequences as a people. Greenland should work with countries that have the same values as we have, on how human rights should be respected. We are not giving up our values for investors' sake."
Posted 18 March 2013; 12:18:56 PM. Permalink
(Ben Anderson/Alaska Dispatch, 12 March 2013) -- Recently, a federal appeals court ruling determined that polar bears, those poster children of the effects of climate change, could keep their "threatened" status as listed under the Endangered Species Act, despite objections from the state of Alaska and other entities. Now, the Pacific walrus -- another species that calls Alaska home -- may become another animal to be listed on the basis of climate change's negative effect on its summer sea ice habitat. Another recent court ruling said that a determination can now be made on whether or not to include a backlog of more than 260 species for the endangered species list. ... The walrus was originally listed as a candidate for protection under the ESA in 2011, when a yearlong review by the FWS found that the walrus may merit eventual ESA safeguards. "After review of all the available scientific and commercial information, we find that listing the Pacific walrus as endangered or threatened is warranted," the agency wrote. "Currently, however, listing the Pacific walrus is precluded by higher priority actions to amend the Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants." A big part of the recommendation came as a result of receding levels of summertime Arctic sea ice, widely attributed to warming temperatures related to climate change. 2007 marked a record low for Arctic sea ice extent, a record broken again just last year. In 1980, the U.S. Geological Survey says that Arctic sea ice covered about 7.5 million square kilometers. In 2012, it covered less than 3.5 million square kilometers. Those low ice extents were also what led to the polar bear's initial listing as threatened under the ESA in 2008, and Pacific walruses may now face the same fate.
Posted 12 March 2013; 8:13:56 PM. Permalink
(Radio Sweden via Eye on the Arctic, 11 March 2013) -- The Sami, an indigenous people living in northern Sweden, want higher compensation for their reindeer that are killed by other animals, reports Swedish Radio news. More than 5,000 bear, lynx, wolverine, and wolves are found in Sweden today. That's double the number of predatory wildlife from the time the reindeer compensation system was put in place in the mid-1990s. Most predatory animals live in reindeer areas. The Swedish National Sami Association says many of the 51 Sami reindeer herding communities are having a tough time. The association wants to reduce the numbers of predatory animals in their areas and get more in compensation for reindeer losses. Lena Ek, Sweden's Environmental Minister, says the issue will be taken up this fall when the government presents its plan for predatory wildlife. Sweden needs to be prepared to pay if it wants to continue to protect such animals, she says.
Posted 12 March 2013; 7:58:33 PM. Permalink
(CBC News, 11 March 2013) -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a final Northwest Territories devolution deal at the territory's legislature in Yellowknife today. "Negotiators have reached a consensus on the terms of a final devolution agreement," Harper said. The final agreement, as it stands, gives the Northwest Territories more control over its natural resources — it stands to get half the money collected from oil, minerals and diamonds. Based on last year's numbers, that would have added about $69 million to the territory's budget. Five of the territory's seven aboriginal groups signed a consensus document, including Nellie Cournoyea, a former N.W.T. premier and the current chair of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation. "Being part of the agreement, then we're able to ensure we can work together with what we received in our land claims agreement. So it gives us a parity with the territorial government," she said. Harper called it a historic day and applauded the territorial government led by Premier Bob McLeod. He also made a note that the final agreement will not be signed just yet. "Before this agreement is signed, our government will do its part to consult with all impacted aboriginal groups," he said. Lastly, Harper said, "It is time for the people of the Northwest Territories to take control of their destiny."
Posted 11 March 2013; 4:32:54 PM. Permalink
(Sever-Press via Yamal.org, 6 March 2013) -- This year the Department of Agro-industrial Complex, Trade and Provision of Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug plans to undertake scientific and research work "Elaboration of the methodology for calculation of reindeer capacity of pastures on the territory of the region". The director of the department, Vyacheslav Kucherenko, explained the project to the conference of Yamal Union of Reindeer Herders, and said the methodology is intended to yield information for substantiating and taking administrative decisions on planning economic and nature-protecting activities and also use for practical aims by economic subjects. By his words, intensive industrial development of Yamal brings to decrease in territories of pastures. At the same time, number of domestic reindeer in the territory of Yamalskiy and Tazovskiy districts stays on the high level, which brings to more intensive use of reindeer pastures. Thus, it is necessary to elaborate the methodology and to calculate reindeer capacity of pastures on the territory of the region.
Posted 11 March 2013; 4:27:10 PM. Permalink
(Felicity Barringer/New York Times, 6 March 2013) -- At a time when large dams are being taken down, not put up, the state of Alaska is proposing to construct one of the tallest and most expensive hydroelectric dams ever built in North America. The Alaska Energy Authority is planning to build a 735-foot, $5.2 billion structure on the Susitna River in a largely empty south-central part of the state, which is watered by runoff from the arc of the Alaska Range. The dam, designed to generate up to 600 megawatts of electricity, would create a new power supply for more than two-thirds of the state’s population. But in Alaska, where natural energy resources and wildlife are both foundations of the economy, the proposed dam presents twin conundrums. One is economic: which is better, creating a reliable source of hydroelectricity and weaning some of the state off natural gas, or building a spur off a proposed pipeline to bring gas from the North Slope to the populated region from Fairbanks to the Kenai Peninsula? Or both? The other is environmental: what serves the environment best, replacing natural gas-fired electricity with hydroelectricity, which is free of greenhouse gas emissions, or keeping the Susitna watershed untrammeled and avoiding the risks involved in changing the dynamics of a major salmon stream? ...
Posted 10 March 2013; 8:56:17 PM. Permalink
(CBC e, 6 March 2013) -- Ottawa has signed a $288 million contract for the design of new Arctic offshore patrol ships as part of its shipbuilding procurement project. The federal government and J.D. Irving signed a 30-month planning and engineering definition contract that will establish what ships to build and how to build them. The contract with Irving Shipbuilding of Halifax was announced by Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose on Thursday. Neither would say how many Arctic patrol ships would be built under the deal. The original estimate was between six and eight. The contract is expected to support up to 200 jobs in Nova Scotia. Irving said there will be an additional 75 jobs in other provinces. Ambrose said the design contract will ensure that construction of the ships can begin once the build contract is signed. Construction of the vessels is expected to begin in 2015.
Posted 10 March 2013; 7:26:24 PM. Permalink
(Laurel Andrews/Alaska Dispatch, 10 March 2013) -- It’s a bird, it’s a plane – no wait, it’s a blimp! For the first time since the 1920s, a modern day airship will travel to Alaska this summer to conduct field work and show off its potential for becoming a permanent fixture in Alaska’s skies. Francis Grover, business manager with Skyship Services, said the company is “quite excited” for the northward journey. The blimp, a Skyship 600, will arrive in early July and plans to stick around until September. Lifting off from Orlando, Fl., the blimp will travel for 6 weeks at speeds of 40 miles per hour before it lands in the 49th state, making stops along the way. The Skyship 600 is the largest blimp in operation in the world, at a length of 200 feet; it's able to carry a 2 ton payload, and 15 passengers at a time. The blimp will usually cruise for around 18 hours at a time, but its record for staying aloft is 50 hours straight, Grover said. During its time in the state, the airship will conduct surveys for oil companies of wetlands and other vegetative areas; Grover declined to name the companies it will be working for. He also hopes the company will “spead some goodwill” during its time in Alaska and show off the potential airships have in the Last Frontier. The company hopes to make return trips to the state, and eventually have airships based in Alaska full-time. According to a press release sent out by Alaska Sen. Lesil McGuire, blimps have potential as “outstanding platforms for aerial surveys” due to their slow speeds and low altitude flying.
Posted 10 March 2013; 7:23:58 PM. Permalink
(CBC News, 8 March 2013) -- The Tlicho Government will formally sign on to the N.W.T.’s devolution agreement-in-principle at a ceremony today at 3:30 p.m. in Behchoko. The Tlicho are the last aboriginal group with a settled land claim to sign on to the agreement to transfer control of public land and resources from the federal government to the N.W.T. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected in Yellowknife on Monday, and it is anticipated he will announce a final devolution agreement has been reached. However, the final agreement won't be signed right away as the territorial government still plans to do community consultations before sealing the deal.
Posted 10 March 2013; 7:22:01 PM. Permalink