Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken

Dutch Diplo Talk

Alaska is hot

21 Sep 2015

After two years in office, I finally had the opportunity to visit the northernmost state in my jurisdiction: Alaska. Although everyone advised me to see the countryside, I only had time to visit Anchorage, which is the state’s largest city. The capital, Juneau, is almost 600 miles southeast of Anchorage in the state’s panhandle.

Everyone was still talking about President Obama’s visit and his speech at the GLACIER Conference on Sept. 1, which Dutch Foreign Minister Koenders also attended.

President Obama, in marking the start of America’s two-year term as chair of the Arctic Council, summed up the state of the Arctic:

  •     We know human activity is changing the climate (in the Artic twice as fast as worldwide).
  •   We know the devastating consequences if the current trend lines continue.
  •   We know we need to adapt.
  • And most importantly, we know we have to build an economy that revolves around clean energy

Drilling in the arctic is safe according to Shell
Many people applauded President Obama for his speech, but also asked why the federal government is permitting Royal Dutch Shell to drill into oil-bearing rock at the Burger J site in Chukchi Sea. The response is that a ban on gas and oil drilling in the Arctic is not on the Arctic Council’s agenda.

During my visit to the Shell headquarters, I was told that the location of the drilling in the Arctic is safe because the company has met all social and environmental requirements. Moreover, drilling has been limited in three ways: the goal is only to assemble data; the number of wells is one (instead of five); and it will stop by Sept. 30.

The small and remote, including native, communities in Alaska have mixed feelings. On the one hand, they appreciate the information and support that Shell is offering them. On the other, they are interested in smart-grid renewable energy (solar, wind, thermal, bio), but cannot afford the investments. In this case, Norway seems a better partner to them than the Netherlands because Norway is also an Arctic country with remote communities and having a similar debate about energy.

Another reason for my visit to Alaska was the invitation of the World Affairs Council of Alaska to speak about European affairs. The German and Polish deputy heads of mission flew in from Washington, and I participated as local EU chair. Apart from the negotiations on a free-trade agreement between the US and EU, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and the migrants in Europe due to the Middle East conflicts, again the main issue turned out to be energy.

If we are too slow in building a clean-energy economy, Alaska will become too hot.

This blog was posted earlier in Hugo’s Weekly.

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  • 21 Sep 2015, 9:43
  • Posted in Climate
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About the author

Hugo Von Meijenfeldt
Written by Hugo Von Meijenfeldt

Consul-General in San Francisco

Hugo von Meijenfeldt was appointed as representative for the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the 13 westernmost United States in August 2013.

Prior to his current position, Hugo was Deputy Director General at the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. He also served as Special Envoy for Climate Change at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 2009 until 2013. In this capacity, he led Dutch participation in global diplomatic activities to reach a climate agreement.

Previously, Hugo was Director for Soil, Water and Rural Environment. For several years he held the position of Deputy Director for International Affairs, Chairman of the Committee on Environmental Policy of UN-ECE Geneva, and Head of the European Policy Division (including the EU Presidency in 1997). From 1982 until 1991, he was Legal Counsel to the soil clean-up division.

Hugo earned his Masters in Public Law and Policy at the Free University in Amsterdam in 1981. He is member of the WorldConnectors and the Sustainability Challenge Foundation.