Arctic nations meet amid drilling concerns

Senior officials from the world’s eight Arctic nations will meet in Alaska amid concerns about the future of the sensitive region after President Donald Trump called for more oil drilling and development.

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Among those expected to attend the meeting of the Arctic Council beginning on Thursday in Fairbanks are US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who met on Wednesday with Trump and Tillerson in Washington.

No formal discussions were set in Alaska but key issues such as climate change, development and drilling will provide a backdrop as the chairmanship of the council passes from the US to Finland.

“We are unsure what the Trump administration thinks about the Arctic region in general, about the Arctic Council in particular and about its role,” said Victoria Herrmann, president of The Arctic Institute, a Washington, DC-based group that provides research to shape Arctic policy.

The Arctic Council is an advisory body that promotes co-operation among member nations and indigenous groups. Its focus is sustainable development and environmental protection of the Arctic.

It does not make policy or allocate resources and its decisions must be unanimous.

“In terms of being a reflection of a nation’s priorities, it can only go so far since all eight have to agree to the same thing,” said Nils Andreassen, executive director of the Anchorage-based Institute of the North, a non-partisan organisation focused on Arctic resources.

Tillerson arrived late on Wednesday afternoon in Fairbanks and immediately held a meeting with a congressional delegation as well as Arctic representatives from Alaska’s indigenous people.

Protesters gathered in a city park nearby to denounce the presence of the former president of Exxon Mobil Corp.

“My message for Rex Tillerson is: Alaska shouldn’t be for sale for what’s in our earth,” said Hannah Hill, 36, who works at a Fairbanks soup kitchen.

“This place is beautiful and this place is delicate and what already is happening on in the Arctic will affect the rest of the Earth. And that is science.”

Pat Lambert, a retired University of Alaska math professor, attended the rally because he believes climate change is a serious problem.

He suggested Tillerson “should get away from his cronies in the oil business and start listening to the people of Alaska, for instance, and the people of the world who are so interested in these issues.”

After the rally, the protesters marched behind a sign reading, “Welcome to the frontline of climate change,” to the building where the Arctic Council welcoming celebration was being held.

The United States – an Arctic country because of the state of Alaska – is joined on the council by Canada, Russia, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.