Analysis & Opinions - The Hill

Biden and Trudeau Need to Talk About the Arctic

| Mar. 18, 2023

This piece was originally published on The Hill. 

Editor's Update: In a joint statement issued on March 24, 2023, President Biden and President Trudeau named protecting shared waters and the Arctic as a priority for U.S.-Canadian cooperation. 

In 2016, then-President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada jointly charted a new course for collaborative leadership in the Arctic. With the motivation provided by our shared borders, close economic ties and the common challenges faced by the Indigenous peoples in both countries whose culture and way of life has flourished in this remote part of the world for thousands of years, Canada and the United States have played a pivotal role in promoting solutions to shared challenges in the Arctic. Now is the time for the two nations to reaffirm their commitment to work together to meet the growing climate-linked challenges in their far North, from intensifying wildfires and thawing permafrost, to plant and animal impacts imperiling Indigenous subsistence and cultures, to a changing Arctic Ocean and all that this entails for the region and the globe.

Fortunately, when President Biden visits Trudeau for two days next week, there should be time for them to discuss not only the currently compelling geopolitical challenges around relations with Russia and China but also what more the United States and Canada can do together to address the slower growing but increasingly critical problems being imposed by climate change on the North American Arctic. A good initial focus for this discussion would be the Central Arctic Ocean (CAO), given its high relevance to the interests of both countries and the immense role it plays in impacts of climate change both regionally and globally.

The Central Arctic Ocean (CAO) is more than 1 million square miles of international waters surrounding the North Pole. Its border is formed by the 200 nautical-mile line drawn from the shores of the five Arctic coastal states: Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark (on behalf of Greenland), Norway, Russia and the United States. For nearly all of the tenure of human beings on this planet, the CAO has been covered with a multi-meter layer of floating sea ice. That has made it the least-studied ocean area on Earth but also one of the most consequential in its influence on the global climate. That influence comes in large part from the sea ice’s high reflectivity, which sends most incoming sunlight back to space, cooling the region and the planet below what temperature would be if the area covered by ice were open water or land instead (which is far less reflective than ice).

The enhancement, by the ice, of the temperature difference between the CAO and the equator also plays a major role in atmospheric circulation and ocean currents in the Northern Hemisphere, further influencing climate in the regions where most of the world’s people live.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Ulmer, Fran and John P. Holdren.“Biden and Trudeau Need to Talk About the Arctic.” The Hill, March 18, 2023.

The Authors

John P. Holdren