The Week Ahead: Guess who’s coming to Ilulissat

Denmark’s celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Ilulissat Declaration is shaping up to be a dud.

By Kevin McGwin - May 21, 2018
The harbor of Ilulissat, Greenland, is shown in a fall 2008 photo. Ten years after the landmark 2008 Ilulissat Declaration, Greenland and Denmark are inviting Arctic nations and indigenous groups back for a conference that revisits the declaration’s themes. (Vincent van Zeijst / CC 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Planning a reunion can be tricky: Everyone is who was there the first time around gets invited, but you never know until the last minute who’s going to show up.

This week, Denmark, together with Greenland, throws a reunion of sorts when it invites representatives from all eight Arctic states to Ilulissat for a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the declaration signed there by the foreign ministers of the five Arctic coastal states (later dubbed “the Arctic 5”). The official announcement for the meeting, sent out by the Foreign Ministry on Friday, suggests Copenhagen is on pins and needles about the final turnout: no names are named, only that it will have “participation from ministers and representatives” from Arctic states and the region’s indigenous groups.

Tellingly, diplomats in Copenhagen, typically keen on touting convivial Arctic relations, have been uncharacteristically mum about whether their foreign ministers will take part.

[Negotiators reach deal to ban commercial fishing in international Arctic waters]

On the surface, that the Danes would have trouble getting their Arctic friends to RSVP to their shindig runs counter to the success of the original gathering, widely believed to have been the right meeting, at the right time.

Internally, there was concern amongst the coastal states that Russia, which, the year prior, had planted a flag on the ocean floor at the North Pole, would thumb its nose at international conventions and make unilateral territorial claims. Externally, there was mounting pressure by non-Arctic states to internationalize the region with an Arctic treaty, based on the Antarctic Treaty, which, by and large, permits only scientific activity there.

This time around, it appears that Ilulissat is the wrong meeting at the wrong time.

Outside the region things are tense: Problems between Russia and the U.S. get most attention, but Moscow is also accused of stirring up trouble in the Baltic region. A Norwegian citizen who served as a border guard on the frontier in Kirkenes, is on trial in Moscow for espionage.

If neither Moscow nor Washington will send top-level representatives to exchange pleasantries, no one else is going to either. Meanwhile, relations in the Arctic continue along swimmingly.

Ironically, this, is due to the fact that the Ilulissat Declaration achieved its purpose. Russia, Denmark, and Canada all appear to agree to wait until the U.N. to reviews their claims at the North Pole before taking their next steps.

[How Arctic governance could become a testing ground for Sino-US relations

Meanwhile, Iceland, Sweden and Finland, the three members of the Arctic club that lack an Arctic coastline, say they are firmly behind the declaration, despite initially bristling at not being invited to the 2008 meeting. Taken together, this, according to paper published in February by Jon Rahbek-Clememsen and Gry Thomasen, two Copenhagen-based scholars, suggests that the Ilulissat Declaration succeeded its goals of putting a lid on concerns about an unregulated Arctic and showing to non-Arctic countries that a treaty for the region was “unnecessary and unrealistic.” The same read may also apply to this week’s meeting.

When and where May 22-23; Ilulissat, Greenland

For more information
Ilulissat Declaration High-level Meeting in Ilulissat, Greenland on the Occasion of the 10-year Anniversary of the Ilulissat Declaration

Further reading
Ilulissat Two: Why Greenland and Denmark are inviting Arctic governments back this May How has cooperation in the Arctic survived Western-Russian geopolitical tension?

GRACE-FO In film, sequels generally fail to live up to the successes of the release the follow. NASA, America’s space agency, is taking no chances that this fate will befall the GRACE-FO mission, due to be launched this week from California.

The original GRACE mission (FO stands for “follow-on”) accomplished its task of measuring tiny changes in the earth’s gravity by using a system that employed twin satellites flying one behind the other at a fixed distance. As the Earth’s gravity below changed, it led to corresponding changes in the velocity of the satellites, temporarily increasing or decreasing the distance between them. This allowed for measurements of variations in the Earth’s gravity at a specific point to an accuracy down to the micron (about a tenth the width of a human hair).

But there is much more to GRACE than a clever and highly precise way to take measurements. The data it collected were used to show how mass is distributed around the planet and how it varies over time. This made it possible for scientists to determine how much gravity was being exerted at a particular point at a particular point at time, information that is useful for anyone studying the planet’s oceans, geology and climate. For those studying the cryosphere, it is particularly important, since it can reveal even slight changes in amounts of sea ice and ice caps.

GRACE data were used to determine how the cryosphere is responding to warming temperatures. Combined with other data, it corroborated similar measurements, or, where different aspects were being measured, it added a new layer of understanding.

Its measurements were also used to come up with suggestions for how ice could react under various scenarios.

Except for the addition of a laser to measure the distance (the original GRACE used microwaves) and new computer innards, GRACE-FO will do precisely the same thing in precisely the same manner. The original GRACE mission was decommissioned in 2017, some 15 years after it began, and a decade longer than planned. The mission’s end, though intentional, has left scientists without information they consider to be vital to their work. As sequels go, GRACE-FO has what it takes to make it a hit.

When and where
Expected launch on May 22; Vandenberg Air Force Base, California 

For more information
Grace FO website NASA Renews Focus on Earth’s Frozen Regions
Keeping a Close Eye on Ice Loss

Further reading
Already in overtime, NASA’s ice-monitoring mission is finally nearing its end

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory video explaining the GRACE-FO mission

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil-lease sale public meetings

The first meetings organized by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which oversees all of America’s federal land, in its efforts to gather public input about the Trump administration’s planned sale of oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge get under way this week.

The meetings are part of the BLM’s efforts, launched last month, to gather input on issues that should be addressed in an environmental impact statement.

The first meeting will be held on May 22, in Kaktovik, the Inupiat village that is located on a barrier island near the refuge’s coastal plain, where the drilling would take place.

Additional meetings will be held in the Inupiat hub of Utqiaġvik, the Gwich’in communities of Arctic Village and Venetie and in Anchorage and Fairbanks. A final meeting will be held in Washington, D.C., on July 15.

When and where
May 22; Kaktovik, Alaska

For more information
Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program EIS

Further reading
The Trump administration has just announced its slate of hearings on ANWR drilling plans
Trump administration kicks off ANWR oil leasing process

Other events this week

Arctic Investigations Program, visit to Anchorage and Fairbanks
When and Where
May 17-26; Anchorage and Fairbanks
For more information
Health Surveillance in the Arctic: IVLP Participants Convene in Minneapolis and Alaska

Polar Explorer Day
When and where
May 21; Russia
For more information
Polar Explorer Day in Russia

AEC Annual Meeting 2018
When and where
May 23-24; Kiruna, Sweden
For more information
Arctic Economic Council

6th China-Nordic Arctic Cooperation Symposium
When and where
May 23-25; Tromsø, Norway
For more information
China-Nordic Arctic Research Center

St. Petersburg International Economic Forum
When and Where
May 24-26; St. Petersburg, Russia
For more information

Nunavut Legislative Assembly – Spring sitting
When and where
May 24-June 14; Nunavut
For more information
Legislative Assembly of Nunavut
2018 Sitting Calendar for the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut

The Week Ahead is a preview of some of the events related to the region that will be in the news in the coming week. If you have a topic you think ought to be profiled in a coming week, please email [email protected].