In Arctic, Kerry Calls for Urgency on Climate Change

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By Andrea Vittorio and Dean Scott

Aug. 31 — Secretary of State John Kerry used the backdrop of a rapidly warming Arctic to call for “a heightened sense of urgency” in global efforts to fight climate change.

“What we can decide here,” Kerry said Aug. 31 in Anchorage, Alaska, at the opening of an international meeting of policy makers, scientists and businesses, and “what we [can] make real in Paris and beyond, will profoundly impact the future of life on this planet.”

The meeting, organized by the State Department, focused on the many changes felt by the region, from melting ice to thawing permafrost, and how to deal with them. It comes less than 100 days before negotiators from around the world will gather at a United Nations summit in Paris to hammer out a climate deal that would for the first time commit both developed and developing countries to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate change is hitting especially hard in the Arctic, which is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe.

“Unless the global community comes together to address this challenge, the dramatic climate impacts that we’re seeing in this part of the world will be a harbinger for every part of the world,” Kerry said.

Changes ‘Happening Now.'

John Holdren, the president's top science adviser, detailed how rising temperatures are reshaping the region—and the consequences of those changes in the Arctic and beyond.

As melting ice opens up new opportunities for shipping, fishing, tourism and oil and gas exploration, Holdren told the crowd, it also presents “new challenges” for search and rescue operations and international interactions on Arctic waters.

Open water instead of ice also means bigger waves and more coastal erosion—problems made worse by rising seas, he said. The northernmost reaches of Alaska are losing slightly more than a football field worth of land a day to coastal erosion and sea level rise, according to the administration.

“The bottom line is that climate change is not a distant threat for our children and their children to worry about,” Kerry said. “It is now. It is happening now.”

His comments echoed those made by other members of the administration in the lead-up to President Barack Obama's arrival in Anchorage later that day.

‘Wakeup Call' for Action 

After making his own appearance at the State Department meeting, Obama will see climate impacts firsthand when he becomes the first sitting American president to venture north of the Arctic Circle.

Obama offered a preview for his three-day trip in his weekly address Aug. 29, saying the dramatic changes in the Arctic region should serve as “our wakeup call” to combat global climate change.

He said one of the things he will do while in Alaska is to call on other nations “to meet this threat” by curbing greenhouse gas emissions under the UN deal. “As as long as I’m president, America will lead the world to meet the threat of climate change before it’s too late,” the president said.

While his focus on climate impacts during his Alaska trip drew praise from some environmental groups, many of them also took aim at his administration’s Aug. 18 approval of Royal Dutch Shell Plc’s proposal to resume exploratory offshore drilling in the Chukchi Sea north of Alaska.

Timing Seen as ‘Ironic.'

“The timing of President Obama’s trip to Alaska and the Arctic could not be more ironic, given that his administration just approved dangerous drilling plans that put the region’s well-being in serious jeopardy,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in an Aug. 31 statement.

The president defended what he argued is a balanced approach to energy, saying in his weekly address that he has been “going all-in on clean energy sources.” But the U.S. economy “still has to rely on oil and gas, and as long as that’s the case, I believe we should rely more on domestic [sources] than on foreign imports,” Obama said.

“Still, I know there are Americans concerned about drilling,” Obama said. “I share [those] concerns.”

But his administration doesn’t “rubber stamp permits,” he said, and will work to ensure rigorous standards are applied to the Shell project.

“The bottom line is that safety has been and will continue to be my administration’s top priority when it comes to oil and gas exploration off America’s precious coasts, even as we push our economy, and the world, to ultimately transition off of fossil fuels,” Obama said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Andrea Vittorio and Dean Scott in Washington at and

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at