I am just now leaving the Arctic Fulbright Workshop, which was held 200 kilometers above the Arctic Circle at the Abisko Scientific Research Station in northern Sweden. The US Embassy organized this workshop with the Fulbright Commission, the Department of State, the Government of Sweden, the WWF and the Stockholm Environment Institute. The conference convened Fulbright Scholars from universities in Canada, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden and the United States. Some of our Canadian participants traveled for more than 24 hours to get here. That is awesome commitment to this important challenge!
I am so happy that Abisko was selected as the site for this Workshop. Abisko is a wonderful facility in the heart of a pristine ecosystem. But it’s also more than that. An argument made against focusing resources to fight climate change is ‘where’s the evidence?’ In Abisko you can see it:
· In Abisko there are over 100 years of records on the local eco-system, whereby change is measurable over a long term;
· In Abisko there are studies being conducted identifying new species of flora and fauna that are there now and never before;
· In Abisko there are mires that are changing because of the melting of the permafrost – with direct and collateral effects on the environment.
I am so thrilled that Tom Healy, the Chairman of the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, was able to be present. Tom was appointed to the Board by President Obama in 2011 and very ably oversees the Fulbright Program worldwide, the U.S. Government’s flagship program of educational exchange and public diplomacy. The Fulbright program is renewed by engaging in the challenges of our time, like the future of the Arctic. The Arctic and climate change will be among the greatest global challenges that we share in the future. The expertise that took part in this Workshop is a catalyst for developing a global approach, which is what we will need to responsibly address the challenges of the Arctic.
The Arctic has always been a passion of mine. In my 23 months in Sweden as Ambassador, we have been so fortunate to have two Secretaries of State and our President Barack Obama visit. A common thread for these visits have been a focus on sustainability and climate. For example, Secretary Clinton highlighted the CCAC and Secretary Kerry participated in the Arctic Council Ministerial in Kiruna. This reflects the high level of importance the U.S. places on the Arctic.
Sweden recently concluded its chairmanship of the Arctic Council, one that was incredibly successful from our perspective. The Swedish chairmanship really served as a catalyst for raising Arctic issues to the forefront of the government’s policy agenda. This was due to the excellent leadership carried out by Gustaf Lind and his team and also by the personal involvement of Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.
One of the key take-aways the U.S. had from watching the Swedish chairmanship was the necessity of strong planning and coordination. As the U.S. looks forward to our chairmanship of the Arctic Council commencing in 2015, we would like to emulate certain aspects of the “Swedish model” for running the Arctic Council. This includes increasing coordination across our government on Arctic issues. It also includes articulating what role the Arctic has for the U.S. and how it fits into our other overall national and global priorities. The publication of the National Strategy for the Arctic Region is designed to recognize the changing nature of the U.S. Arctic territory and to lay out a framework to guide policymaking for this region. Most importantly it underlines the fact that the U.S. is, and identifies as, an Arctic nation.
Climate Change is a major challenge – it is a challenge not of tomorrow but of now. I am certain we can meet that challenge because the young generation around the world is committed to the environment. The Workshop highlighted for me the sophisticated and creative approaches young Fulbrighters are bringing to this challenge, and I am so happy we are able to support and advance their efforts.