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Alaska calendar loaded with Arctic meetings and conferences

  • Author: Yereth Rosen
    | Arctic
  • Updated: May 31, 2016
  • Published August 6, 2015

President Barack Obama comes to Alaska at the end of this month to learn about and discuss the Arctic, and he is not the only powerful official being drawn north.

The president will attend the State Department-hosted Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience, or GLACIER.

The conference, Aug. 30 and 31 in Anchorage, is expected to draw foreign ministers from other Arctic nations as well as from non-Arctic nations with interests in the region, plus U.S. Cabinet members, indigenous representatives and other leaders from around the north.

While the GLACIER event may be the most prominent upcoming Arctic summit, thanks to its high-profile participants, it's just one in a series of Arctic-related conferences, meetings and events this summer and fall in Alaska and throughout the two-year U.S. chairmanship of the eight-nation Arctic Council.

The Arctic Council has at least eight meetings scheduled in Alaska through 2017, and not just in the major population centers. There are meetings planned for Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau, but also for Barrow, Kotzebue, Unalaska and Chena Hot Springs.

The geographic diversity is deliberate, said Fran Ulmer, chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission and special Arctic adviser to Secretary of State John Kerry.

Alaska leaders were keen to bring the Arctic Council to the state once the U.S. got its first turn since the late 1990s to lead the group, and Arctic leaders involved in the council wanted an experience beyond the state's big cities, Ulmer said.

"People said, 'We would like to see Alaska,' " she said. The State Department, which guides the U.S. chairmanship, responded, she said.

"If you want to understand the Arctic, it does require time and it does require place," she said.

There are so many meetings scheduled and so many officials traveling to Alaska during the two-year U.S. chairmanship that an Alaska host committee is being formed to welcome visitors to Alaska and encourage local participation in Arctic Council events.

The committee's goal is to connect Alaskans -- from ordinary citizens to well-connected political and business leaders -- with visiting dignitaries, said Nils Andreassen, executive director of the Institute of the North, the organization serving as the committee's secretariat.

Arctic Council meetings are generally not open to the public, but there are opportunities -- through meeting sidebars and other events -- for Alaskans to learn about the council and vice versa, Andreassen said. The host committee's job is to make that happen.

"Education, education, education is kind of the focus around it," Andreassen said.

The committee plans to hold public workshops in advance of some closed Arctic Council events to help keep Alaskans engaged. It will also maintain public archives and an information bank aimed at helping members of the public understand what the Arctic Council does at its meetings -- and it plans to organize tours and field trips for Arctic Council visitors to help them learn about the state.

State officials, Native leaders, business representatives, representatives of nongovernmental organizations and academics make up the committee, which kicks off its activities Aug. 11. Though the committee has a "neutral role" on any policy questions, several participants are keen to tell Alaska's story to the rest of the world, Andreassen said.

"The state really wants to convey the realities of the Arctic, which can be difficult if you're not here," he said.

The Arctic Council is not the only organization with a busy Alaska schedule -- and plenty of other upcoming Arctic events will welcome the public.

The Institute of the North has its own events, for example, as do the U.S. Arctic Research Commission and various academic and business organizations. Starting this month, the calendar is packed, with some events scheduled back-to-back.

There are so many events that it can be difficult to keep track of them, Ulmer conceded. "There's kind of a blur," she said.

The U.S. chairmanship term ends in 2017 with a full council ministerial, the capstone meeting for the nation's tenure as chair. That event will be held in the spring in Anchorage, but details have yet to be set.

In addition to its busy schedule of Alaska meetings, the Arctic Council will hold meetings of its senior officials and working groups over the next two years elsewhere too, with some already planned for Norway and other non-Alaska locations and others with details yet to be determined.

And Alaska is not the only U.S. state getting in on Arctic action during the two-year U.S. chairmanship. A meeting for senior Arctic Council officials is scheduled for Portland, Maine, in March 2017, a nod to Maine officials' interest in Arctic issues and their desire for the state to join Alaska as a center of Arctic business.

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