GLACIER conference: US Arctic leadership on the world's stage

Next week, the world will focus on Alaska. Leaders representing 20 nations will make their way to Anchorage for the Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement, and Resilience (GLACIER) conference. Arctic experts, many from Alaska, will discuss ways to deal with the environmental and operational challenges that climate change brings and the key policy issues, including emergency response and cold-weather home construction, that matter to the more than 4 million people who call the Arctic home.

U.S. interest in the Arctic doesn't begin and end with GLACIER. As Alaskans are well aware, the United States became an Arctic nation nearly 150 years ago, when Secretary Seward negotiated the purchase of Alaska land from Russia. Since then, Alaska and the Arctic have been strategic priorities for the United States, integral to our nation's security and prosperity.

As the Arctic Ocean opens, new opportunities and challenges emerge, and the U.S. focus on the Arctic grows. In 2013, President Obama released the first national strategy for the Arctic region, and last year, Secretary Kerry appointed me the U.S. Special Representative for the Arctic, making me responsible for advancing our Arctic priorities globally and for ensuring that our international policies meet Alaska's needs. For the next two years, the United States will lead the Arctic Council, providing our country with an important opportunity to shape the council's work. Our focus is on initiatives that will positively impact Alaskans. We've asked the council to assess where we need better telecommunications infrastructure in the Arctic, explore renewable energy opportunities for off-the-grid villages, and pull together best practices to promote mental wellness and reduce suicide in Arctic communities.

Earlier this month, the administration also named Mark Brzezinski, former U.S. ambassador to Sweden, as executive director of the Arctic Executive Steering Committee. He will be responsible for coordinating federal work in Alaska and implementing the vision of our national Arctic strategy. And, most importantly, next week President Obama will become the first sitting president to visit the U.S. Arctic.

During this exciting moment in Alaska's history, we are eager to hear from you about your interests, needs and priorities. During my time as special representative, I am committed to visiting all 19 of Alaska's boroughs -- and many of the towns and villages that fall within the Unorganized Borough -- to meet the people in your communities and learn firsthand about the issues affecting you. My office recently created three Alaska liaison positions with the aim of facilitating closer cooperation between the Department of State and Alaska Natives. And on Thursday, Sept. 3, U.S. Senior Arctic Official Julie Gourley will hold a town hall meeting from 3-4 p.m. at the NANA office at 909 W. Ninth Ave. in downtown Anchorage to provide an update of our Arctic Council Chairmanship program and to continue listening to your views.

GLACIER may be the first event of its kind to occur in Alaska, but long after the dignitaries and media return home, our shared work will continue -- as it has for the last 150 years.

Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., USCG (Ret.) became the U.S. State Department's special representative for the Arctic in July of 2014. Prior to his appointment, Papp served as the 24th Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, and led the largest component of the Department of Homeland Security.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

Robert Papp

Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., USCG (Ret.) became the U.S. State Department’s special representative for the Arctic in July of 2014. Prior to his appointment, Papp served as the 24th Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, and led the largest component of the Department of Homeland Security.