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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

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NOVEMBER 2015

93

The Secretary Visits the Arctic

BY M I GUE L RODR I GUES

REFLECTIONS

Miguel Rodrigues joined the Foreign Service in 2002. He handles health and Arctic

affairs at Embassy Ottawa, and previously served on the Secretary’s Policy Planning

Staff inWashington, D.C.

I

t was the opportunity of a lifetime to

serve as control officer for Secretary of

State John Kerry’s participation in the

Arctic Council Ministerial in the remote,

frozen city of Iqaluit on Baffin Island, far

north in the Canadian Arctic, on April 24.

With a population of only 7,500 and

located 1,300 miles north of Ottawa, Iqaluit

was a unique choice for a multilateral

conference involving eight foreignminis-

ters. Minister for the Arctic Council Leona

Aglukkaq, the first Inuit in the Canadian

Cabinet, selected the venue to showcase

the Canadian Arctic to the world.

Iqaluit has a starkly beautiful land-

scape—endless, dramatic white expanses

punctuated by low-rising ridges and

pastel-colored buildings.

Aware of the challenges ahead,

Embassy Ottawa addressed a slew of logis-

tical constraints, from a scarcity of hotel

rooms and cars to the lack of BlackBerry

connectivity. In late April, the forecast

high was 21 degrees Fahrenheit, subject to

sudden changes; we had plans and backup

plans for all of the ways a sudden storm

or other event could disrupt the precision

timing the Secretary’s travel demands.

After five months of preparation, it was

a thrill to see the Secretary’s blue and white

plane land and watch him set foot on

Arctic soil. During the meeting, the eight

Arctic states’ ministers adopted the Iqaluit

Declaration, which presented the achieve-

ments of the council during Canada’s

chairmanship (2013-2015).

Canada’s theme, “Development for the

People of the North,” made a priority of

more effective incorporation of traditional

knowledge, which has helped indigenous

peoples survive for millennia, into the

council’s ongoing work.

The council engaged indigenous

communities and health professionals to

identify successful approaches to improve

mental wellness and resiliency across the

region. In addition, Canada took the initia-

tive to have a stronger business presence

in the North and advanced important

environmental priorities.

The ministerial also set the tone for the

next two years of U.S. leadership of the

council. Under the theme, “One Arctic:

Shared Opportunities, Challenges and

Responsibilities,” the United States is

focusing on three initiatives.

Enhancing Arctic Ocean Safety, Secu-

rity and Stewardship:

Improve the ability

of Arctic states to execute their search and

rescue responsibilities, and emphasize

safe, secure and environmentally sound

shipping. Other priorities include marine

environmental protection and ocean

acidification.

Improving Economic and Living

Conditions:

Continue Canada’s work on

mental health to address the unacceptable

rates of suicide in northern communities.

Find ways to improve renewable energy

options in the Arctic, along with improve-

ments in water, sanitation and telecommu-

nications capabilities.

Addressing the Impacts of Climate

Change:

Tackle short-lived climate pol-

lutants, build community and ecosystem

resilience, and improve Arctic science,

with recognition of the importance of

traditional knowledge. The Obama admin-

istration has identified climate change as a

national security threat.

The ministerial illustrated the reach of

diplomacy beyond world capitals to dis-

tant lands whose future matters to all of us.

The Arctic Ocean is rapidly changing from

a solid expanse of inaccessible sea ice into

a navigable sea. Recent years have seen an

increase in shipping through the Bering

Strait, and the rise in sea levels is already

having an impact on coastal cities.

Thawing of large expanses of perma-

frost poses a threat to the region’s infra-

structure, and has the potential to release

large amounts of carbon dioxide and

methane, which would amplify the effects

of global warming.

Our exhilarating Iqaluit visit included

unique moments few delegations experi-

ence: driving on frozen Frobisher Bay,

observing Inuit lifestyles in a replica igloo,

learning about polar bears and narwhals,

and browsing through colorful locally

produced handicrafts.

The opportunity to serve as the Secre-

tary’s control officer, the exposure to the

Arctic’s complex plethora of issues and

challenges, and the chance to sample its

vibrant culture in situ, made for a rich and

rewarding professional experience, surely

the most memorable of my Foreign Service

career thus far.

n

It was an

exhilarating and

bone-chilling

experience.