New bills introduced by US Senator Mark Begich are aimed to strengthen Arctic science, health and diplomacy.
"As we face an Arctic Ocean which is increasingly ice-free, our country has both an historic opportunity and enormous challenges,” U.S. Sen. Mark Begich said. “That’s why we need to know more about the changes underway in the Arctic, what they mean for resource development and transportation in the North and how the changes impact people who live there.”
Strengthening America’s understanding of changes underway in the Arctic, the impacts of Arctic warming on the health of northern residents and strengthening the nation’s international presence in the Arctic are the subjects of three bills recently introduced in the Senate by Begich .
The senator announced his Arctic package in a speech to a conference on Arctic Security in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF).
The first of Begich’s three bills would create a scientific research program dedicated to filling gaps in Arctic knowledge.
“One of the key challenges in the Arctic is the lack of basic scientific knowledge needed to make the increasingly complicated policy decisions,” Begich said. “Both NOAA and Interior have excellent but woefully underfunded climate research and adaptation programs.”
The program would be administered by the U.S. Arctic Research Commission and funded by a portion of the annual earnings of the Environmental Improvement and Restoration Fund (EIRF). The EIRF, an established endowment, was set up from proceeds of a past settlement of litigation over oil revenues from the Arctic.
Recognizing the unique health needs of people in the Arctic region, Begich’s second bill authorizes a study to better understand the causes of the numerous health problems rife in the Arctic and their prevention and treatment. Northern populations experience shorter life expectancy due to suicide and injuries compared to populations living in more moderate climates.
The third of Begich’s Arctic bills would heighten America’s diplomatic presence by naming a U.S. Ambassador to the Arctic to strengthen U.S. influence over Arctic policy decisions.
Six of the eight Arctic nations currently have ambassador-level diplomats representing their interests before the Arctic Council.