Exchanging Ideas on Climate
National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy
Exchanging ideas on Climate

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ROUND TABLE 3 - Securing Canada's Arctic Environment

Q. What are the most important public policy issues related to securing Canada?s Arctic environment in the face of climate change?

Thomas Homer-Dixon started the discussion by saying that the issue of the consequences of climate change for the Arctic has been misconstrued in public policy debates. He added that ?the focus almost exclusively on territorial integrity, on resource extraction in the Arctic basin as a result of loss of sea-ice, on transportation potentially through the North-West and North-East Passage, and on the balance of power between states in the region is misguided and?in some respects?bizarre.? The real security concerns and risks for the Arctic come from outside the region. Climate change could turn the Arctic Circle from a highly reflective surface to an absorptive one, thus implicating food production in some of the most populated regions of the world. The current focus on state-centric issues distracts from systemic problems. A significant educational process is required and policy action is imperative.

Others highlighted the need for Inuit participation and a bottom up policy development framework. A robust Arctic science program is also necessary and Canada?s biggest challenge is the need to come up with an observational and management program as well as a whole range of tools that are not currently being used, such as polar genomics.

Warming temperatures in the Arctic are an international problem, not a national one. Canada should assume a leadership role on this issue. What is happening in the Arctic is a non-linear event and Canada has an obligation to advocate for decisive policies. One of the biggest challenges will be getting Arctic states to work together. The current regulatory framework is weak and Canada lacks institutions to tackle policy challenges in the North, including shipping, competition for resources, overlapping land and political claims. For example, Canada is the only polar country without a polar university. This issue goes far beyond climate change?although climate change is focusing attention on it?and geopolitical conditions are transforming the very nature of the Arctic. Canada needs both multilateral and unilateral capabilities.

Q. What barriers and challenges prevent these issues from being addressed?

David Runnalls commented that the first challenge that may prevent these issues from being addressed is our ?inability to grasp the science, grasp the enormity of the problem. And therefore the inability of most of us to recognize that this is a global problem, it?s not just a Northern problem.? Canada is weak in science, weak in its university capacity, weak in its capacity to make and enforce environmental regulations, and weak in its military power in the region, all of which present serious barriers to addressing what needs to be done.

Another large barrier noted is that Canada does not expand its vision beyond the southern mindset. Inuit people have therefore had a limited say in policy development. Media focus suggests a race for the
Arctic, and this distracts policy makers from the critical issue these problems will not be solved in the Arctic because they are not created there. UK High Commissioner, Anthony Cary, noted that the ?the
biggest barrier to policy making in this country has been the extent to which the debate has been polarized on these issues.? He added that the government has seen its job as finding a balance between economic prosperity and environmental responsibility, which is the wrong way to frame this issue. It is not about finding that mythical
balance, but finding a whole different model that includes business opportunities.

Other noted challenges included the need for the translation of knowledge into programs and policies that turn science into solutions. Solutions require long-term, sustainable funding, which has not been allocated in the past. North-South connections continue to be a barrier. In terms of military security, Canada lacks the capacity to respond to emergencies within its own territory, both from the air and the sea. Being a responsible government entails having the necessary capabilities to protect the people and space in the North.

Q. What are some possible solutions for addressing the
barriers and challenges identified?

Ian Church listed five priority areas for solutions to address climate change in the Arctic: protecting the ecosystems, the landscape and the people; recognizing that the environment is going to change very rapidly and that we have to adapt; acknowledging that our knowledge is limited; building a capacity to inform and engage Northerners; and, finally, building effective governance systems. He noted that ?We don?t understand that we can learn a lot about what?s driving our systems by also getting involved, and understanding and appreciating what?s going on in the southern hemisphere.?

Canada needs a strategic policy focus for the Arctic and the capacity to receive science and technology in the most appropriate way. There used to be a Canadian ambassador for circumpolar events, a role that could be brought back. As a country, we need to start sending the message that our sovereignity is not in doubt. It will be important to ensure that the Obama administration ratifies the UN Law of the Sea Convention. Terry Breese of the US Embassy noted that this ratification is very likely to be part of an updated Arctic Strategy to be released by the US government.

Audience Q&A Session - Main Points Raised

A. Canada already faces irreversible impacts caused by climate change so adaptation is no longer a policy option, but a policy imperative. It has to be dealt with from the bottom up.

A. We talk about leadership, but we do not know who should lead or how to start; we need to move horizontally. Future policy frameworks need to include a risk management strategy to analyze where we are, so we can recalibrate and move forward.

A. A major security threat for Canada right now is that we are dealing with a closed and fragile ecosystem for which it has very little influence or control over the major economic activity going on in that ecosystem. We need to ask, how can Canada improve its institutional process mechanisms to have control over that? How can Canada engage the other countries,
and not just the Arctic five?

A. Cumulative environmental impacts and
interrelationships between oil and gas, greenhouse gases, and other issues have to be managed.

A. The complexity of issues requires new kinds of global governance structures to manage systemic problems. It is also time to form a regional treaty to deal with tourism, shipping, emergency response and resource development. Economic opportunities for Northerners should be emphasized, and they should be part of the governance model.

In response to the final question about the #1 priority that Canadian policy makers must address with future climate policy in order to secure our Arctic environment, round table participants described their priorities as follows:

  • Canada must get its own house in order before it moves internationally, and develop domestic policies that consider Arctic populations.
  • Canada must be responsible, clean up its own act, and carry out constructive diplomacy.
  • A sustainable Arctic development strategy needs to be created with the involvement of people in the region.
  • Support the Arctic Council to develop an international convention on the environment.
  • Begin by pricing carbon.
  • Incorporate science and traditional knowledge in the Arctic strategy so as to promote economic development that serves Northerners without compromising environmental standards.
  • Canada needs instruments, thoughts, and policies.
  • Increase media exposure of the issues in order to bring them to the Canadian public.
  • Strengthen regional approaches to the management of Arctic issues and build on the Ilulissat Declaration by developing common standards for shipping, environmental cooperation and resource management.
  • Need to work on various time and spatial scales.
  • Need to put indigenous peoples?and not just the environment?on the agenda.
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Climate Change

Climate Forward

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Jodi White

"[We must] make sure
that our knowledge
capacity is top
drawer?[we must]
combine science and
traditional knowledge
of the peoples who?ve
been in the North."
Jodi White, Moderator

Robert Page

"On the Arctic I think
our greatest and most
pressing concern
is our domestic
policy in terms of the
Arctic and what are
the priorities for it,
including the local
people above all."
Bob Page, TransAlta Professor
of Environmental Management
and Sustainability, Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy?s Energy and Environmental Systems Group,
University of Calgary, and

Violet Ford

"A big challenge for
policy makers?and it?s
the same challenge
for us in the North?is
that Canada doesn?t
expand their vision?
beyond the southern
mindset of Canada
and that?s as big an
issue for us in trying
to convince the rest of
Canada that climate
change is a serious
issue for us as much
as it is for the policy
Violet Ford, Executive Council
Member and Vice President on
International Affairs, Canadian
Circumpolar Institute

Terry Breese

"The problems of
climate change in
the Arctic are not
going to be solved
in the Arctic. The
problem doesn?t arise
in the Arctic, it arises
elsewhere, and it will
have to be solved
elsewhere and not in
the Arctic."
Terry Breese, Deputy Chief of
Mission, American Embassy in

Elizabeth Dowdeswell

"If we don?t have
Canada at the table,
actively involved
and in a leadership
position on a
research and science
perspective that
in fact the world?s
understanding of
climate change will be
Elizabeth Dowdeswell