GLACIER conference ends with a dire, if vague, keynote from Obama

As the President continues touring Alaska, the aims and outcomes of Monday’s GLACIER Conference are still being sorted out.

Independent of the president’s visit, the State Department organized for 20 diplomats with ties to the Arctic and climate change to gather in Anchorage’s Dena’ina Center. The aim, according to Secretary of State John Kerry, was figuring out next steps for international efforts on climate change ahead of talks in Paris later this year.

“We very much look forward to building a record, an agenda, a roadmap, if you will, to lead us into Paris, where we have a critical negotiation this year,” Kerry said during opening remarks.

Throughout the day, diplomats convened for closed-door meetings. Meanwhile, breakaway sessions elsewhere focused topics of particular interest to Alaska and the high North, like arctic home-design, coastal erosion and mitigation, as well as how to manage arctic fisheries.

President Obama arrives in Alaska to give closing remarks at the GLACIER Conference in Anchorage.
President Obama arrives in Alaska to give closing remarks at the GLACIER Conference in Anchorage. Photo: Marc Lester.

The common thread was in offering evidence that a changing arctic environment is impacting economies, nations, and communities faster than anyone can adapt. Northwest Arctic Borough Mayor Reggie Joule told delegates that Native peoples in Alaska are seeing some of the resources closest to home threatened.

“Subsistence is our means for providing for our families,” said Joule, who spoke throughout the day on different topics, but stressed that hunting, fishing, and foraging remains fundamental to the economies and cultural identity of many Alaska Natives. “For many, more than half of our daily take of nutrition is from our traditional foods.”

By the end of the day’s sessions, Secretary of State Kerry said productive discussions would be reflected in a document set to be put out soon.

We confirmed today that we cannot afford to wait until someone else moves to implement solutions to the challenges that confront us in the Arctic,” Kerry said.  “I’m very pleased that through today’s Glacier Meeting we made progress in a host of areas, and our communiqué will summarize that.”

But particulars—both about the conference’s deliverables, and about what steps the administration will announce remain vague.

During closing remarks, President Obama cast a serious tone about the stakes of inaction on dire climatological changes. He alluded to details to come during his two remaining days visiting different parts of Alaska. But at the close of Monday’s Glacier conference, the one certainty is widespread agreement that man-made clime change is exacting a real a real toll on Alaska.

In fact, there was one other universal point of agreement within the conference’s crowded closing session.

“I think we could say that Denali has never looked better than it did today,” Secretary Kerry said to a battery of applause.

After an executive action Sunday, the name of North America’s highest mountain was officially restored to Denali.