Secretary of State John Kerry said today at an Arctic conference in Anchorage that “anybody running for any high office in any nation in the world” should visit a place where the “seismic challenge” of climate change is happening “and inform themselves about this.”
“And we as leaders of countries will begin to witness what we call climate refugees moving – you think migration is a challenge to Europe today because of extremism, wait until you see what happens when there’s an absence of water, an absence of food, or one tribe fighting against another for mere survival,” Kerry told the Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement, and Resilience (GLACIER) Conference.
“We are hardly the first generation in human history to face uncertainty about the future. Seventy-five years ago, our predecessors faced a world that was literally engulfed by strife, where seemingly all of Europe was overrun by evil, and civilization itself seemed to be in peril. We had leaders then who rose to that occasion, and we have all seen a world that is better for what came out of it with the United Nations and multilateralism and commitments to humanitarian and other missions,” he said.
“The threat posed by climate change is obviously entirely different in character. But it is not different in its global reach or its potential to do harm. And the urgent need for global cooperation, for global commitment, for global choices is exactly the same as it was in the 1930s and ’40s and ’50s. If only we fully grasp that, if we commit ourselves to climbing this mountain together, then I am absolutely convinced that we will meet the obligation that we have to future generations, we will meet it here in the Arctic, and we will meet it for the rest of the world.”
Kerry noted that “villages in Alaska are already being battered by the storms and some have had to move, or will. As the permafrost continues to thaw, the infrastructure is beginning to be challenged. Houses and other buildings are literally collapsing into rubble. Already this is happening.”
The conference coincided with President Obama’s visit to Alaska, which the White House intends to focus on climate change.
The United States joined with France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Netherlands, Poland, Singapore, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the European Union in a joint statement today agreeing that “the rapid warming of the Arctic is profoundly affecting communities both in the Arctic region and beyond.”
“We take seriously warnings by scientists: temperatures in the Arctic are increasing at more than twice the average global rate. Loss of Arctic snow and ice is accelerating the warming of the planet as a whole by exposing darker surfaces that absorb more sunlight and heat. Sea ice, the Greenland Ice Sheet, and nearly all glaciers in the Arctic have shrunk over the past 100 years; indeed, glaciers that have endured since the last Ice Age are shrinking, in most cases at a very rapid rate. Arctic sea ice decline has been faster during the past ten years than in the previous 20 years, with summer sea ice extent reduced by 40% since 1979. Loss of ice from Arctic glaciers and ice sheets contributes to rising sea levels worldwide, which put coastal communities everywhere at increased risk of coastal erosion and persistent flooding. And emerging science suggests that rapid warming of the Arctic may disrupt weather patterns across the globe,” the statement continues.
“…As change continues at an unprecedented rate in the Arctic – increasing the stresses on communities and ecosystems in already harsh environments – we are committed more than ever to protecting both terrestrial and marine areas in this unique region, and our shared planet, for generations to come.”
Kerry said the U.S. is “proposing an international agreement to prevent unregulated fishing for the time being” in the Arctic before commercial operations take advantage of “increasingly open” Arctic seas.
“As more and more people begin to take advantage of the new shipping lanes and the potential of exploration of resources, there is obviously a heightened need to be able to expand open water search and rescue responsibilities and capabilities and also to define the rules of the road,” he said.
He called the Anchorage meeting a “stepping stone” to further action at the UN General Assembly in September and the “critical” Paris climate summit in December.