The administration and Congress should increase funding for federal agencies that offer critical services in the region, including the Coast Guard, the departments of the Interior and Energy, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Second, the United States needs to collect baseline information to increase our scientific understanding of this region in the context of climate change, sea level rise, changing ocean currents and global heat distribution. Cutting-edge research and monitoring by NOAA, the National Science Foundation, and the Office of Naval Research will equip us to better manage changes resulting from climate change and help guide economic development decisions.
To succeed, we need federal investments in basic and applied research as well as collaborations with industrial partners who will build, operate and rely on this data. We must also work closely with the other Arctic nations and industry to fund regional research knowing that these effects will impact more than one country.
Third, the Senate must accede to the Law of the Sea Convention so that our nation can secure its sovereign rights over our extended continental shelf areas, promote international commerce, and protect our national security interests. This would give us a seat at the table and a leadership role in international negotiations about how Arctic waters are demarcated and managed.
As Arctic waters fall under the jurisdiction of many countries, it is vital that the United States steps up to play a leadership role. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have a historic opportunity to strengthen coordination among the Arctic nations and to set a sustainable path forward when the U.S. chairs the Arctic Council in 2015. This must include a realistic assessment of likely increased human presence in the region to extract natural resources and a commitment to undertake these activities in a sustainable way.
Our country’s lagging investment in, and attention to, the Arctic requires immediate action and concrete commitments. With average temperatures in the region rising twice as fast as the rest of the globe, the Arctic is on the frontlines of global change. And rapidly-changing conditions at the top of the world will certainly affect all of us, regardless of where we live.
Sherri Goodman is an executive at CNA and former deputy undersecretary of defense for environmental security under President Bill Clinton. Robert B. Gagosian is the president and CEO of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership. Both are members of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative.