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Foreign Policy in the Arctic with the Center and Congressman Rick Larsen

December 4, 2015

In early December 2015 the Center participated in a panel discussion with Congressman Rick Larsen on the current situation in the Arctic and the role of Canada and the United States. Managing Director of the Center, Nadine Fabbi, provided comments on the role of Indigenous leadership both at the Conference of Parties (COP) 21 meetings in Paris and on the Arctic Council. Harkiran Rajasansi with the Canadian Consulate spoke on behalf of the Canadian government and Matt Morrison, with the Pacific Northwest Economic Region, moderated the discussion.

Fabbi noted that the Inuit Circumpolar Council, representing Inuit globally, prepared a position paper for the Paris meetings illustrating their key role at the convention. The position paper makes the critical connection between climate change and human rights. Both Fabbi and Rajasansi noted that the new Liberal government in Canada was also responsible for enhanced Indigenous participation at COP 21. In addition to representation from the Inuit Circumpolar Council the new Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, brought a delegation of Arctic peoples to the meeting including the premier of Nunavut and the new Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Hunter Tootoo.

Congressman Larsen discussed the importance of having an ambassador dedicated to the Arctic in the United States. He submitted a bill to Congress in April of 2014 to establish a “U.S. Ambassador at Large for Arctic Affairs.” Larsen co-chairs the Congressional Arctic Working Group to help congress better understand the opportunities and challenges for the United States in being an Arctic nation.

There is increasing international interest in the Arctic, often yielding tense circumpolar politics as the eight Arctic nation states – Canada, Denmark (Greenland and Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States – navigate sovereign claims in the polar region. The attraction is due, in part, to the thawing ice that increases accessibility to the land; temperatures in the Arctic are rising twice the rate than the rest of the world. The changing geography means energy and mineral wealth in the Arctic is more accessible (1/8 of the world’s untapped oil and 1/4 of the world’s untapped natural gas is located here), and new international shipping lanes between Asia and Europe are opening.

These changes in the Arctic region are addressed through ongoing dialogue between the various actors involved that include nation states, intergovernmental organizations, indigenous peoples’ organizations, the United Nations, and the European Union. The Arctic is a new frontier in foreign policy with coinciding political, military, economic, social, and environmental pressures.

The World Affairs Council hosted an event on international relations in the Arctic. The event featured Representative Rick Larsen (WA – 2nd District), co-founder of the Congressional Arctic Working Group. He joined for a panel discussion with Dr. Nadine Fabbi, Managing Director of the Canadian Studies Center and Arctic and International Relations in the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington, and Ms. Harkiran Rajasansi, Consul in the Foreign Policy and Diplomacy Service Section at the Consulate General of Canada in Seattle.

This event is part of the 2015-2016 Community Programs Policy & Thought Leaders Series. Sponsored by the World Affairs Council and hosted by Perkins Coie LLP.