Greenland is also confronting developmental pressures by companies racing to claim natural resources exposed by retreating ice.
“Greenland is coming your way, and faster than you think,” said Brooks Yeager, a former State Department official and vice president of the Washington-based environmental group Clean Air-Cool Planet.
Much of the policy debate over global warming has focused on the role of carbon dioxide emissions, which are caused by fossil-fuel burning and remain trapped in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. But, with its initiatives to curb greenhouse gas emissions stalled in Congress, the Obama administration has been compelled to explore alternative ways to slow Arctic warming that do not require United Nations-brokered treaties or complex cap-and-trade scenarios.
At this week’s meetings in Greenland, attended by diplomats of the Arctic Council, Clinton will be joined by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Aides said they plan to highlight the role played by “black carbon” — essentially soot from inefficient combustion, such as natural gas flaring, wood stoves and the controlled burning of agricultural waste.
Such pollutants play an outsize role in Arctic warming, scientists say, essentially causing ice to melt faster than can be explained by rising temperatures alone. But instead of an international treaty, Arctic Council nations will be encouraged to adopt measures unilaterally to control emissions of soot as well other “short-term drivers” of Arctic warming, administration officials said.
“The point here is to have a coordinated focus, a coordinated set of efforts to put attention on this issue and to encourage countries to step up to the plate, to take strong actions domestically,” Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg said this week in previewing the trip by Clinton, who will be the first U.S. secretary of state to attend an Arctic Council meeting.
Maritime treaty expected
The council members — which include Russia, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland — are expected to sign the first treaty on maritime search and rescue for the Arctic region and to hold talks on how to protect sensitive polar habitats against an invasion by oil companies, fishing trawlers, cruise ships and others seeking to cash in as polar waters that have long been ice-bound open up.