By Paul Mayewski and Darryl W. Lyon, Special to the BDN
Bangor Daily News op-ed
The climate in the High North is changing, and so are its economic opportunities and geopolitical concerns. This change is significant for Maine. It is change that demands leadership, and Maine is answering the call in important and impressive ways.
The explanations as to “why” it makes sense for Maine to lead in the High North are many. We must fully understand the effects of climate change on every aspect of our lives. There is opportunity in trade, responsible development and international relationships. The High North represents one of our planet’s last frontiers, and it must remain peaceful, stable and free of conflict.
With these understandings in mind, an ad hoc group of business, military and political leaders are driving the High North agenda to advance our state and our nation’s economic and strategic interests. Thanks to the efforts of the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute, the Maine North Atlantic Development Office and the Maine National Guard, Maine is leading in climate research, economic development and strategic cooperation.
UMaine has identified climate research as a signature area of excellence. This designation reflects the exceptional quality of research as well as the international reputation of the UMaine’s Climate Change Institute.
In 2014, the Climate Change Institute organized the “Climate Adaptation and Sustainability” conference that built a framework for climate adaptation and sustainability planning for Maine communities. The meeting was attended by more than 200 participants, including town planners, policymakers and community leaders throughout Maine. The program helped the public to understand and interpret climate change data and its impact on their communities. Subject matter experts provided planning tools to develop community-based climate adaptation and sustainability plans.
The Maine North Atlantic Development Office, or MENADO, develops trade and investment between Maine and North Atlantic markets and develops Maine’s role in Arctic affairs.
Maine exports approximately $350 million to $400 million of products to northern Europe and the Nordic countries. Several of these countries have made direct investments in Maine.
In 2014, MENADO developed business relationships in Iceland and Greenland, the Faroe Islands and Denmark, as well as organized a successful trade mission to Iceland and the United Kingdom and completed an initial visit to Greenland, resulting in two Maine businesses bidding on major infrastructure projects there. These efforts and others generated over $10 million in projected sales for Maine businesses last year and helped to secure Icelandic investment to open the New England Ocean Cluster House in Portland.
Through MENADO, Maine is a member of the North Atlantic Ocean Cluster Alliance and will serve on the U.S. delegation to the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment, or PAME, working group of the Arctic Council. These partnerships connect Maine expertise to address existing and emerging challenges of the Arctic marine and coastal environments.
Recognizing the strategic importance of the High North, the Maine National Guard has been playing a leading role in strategic issues related to the area.
In May 2014, the Maine National Guard and the UMaine’s School of Policy and International Affairs hosted a conference that brought together political, military, business and academic leaders to discuss the opening of the High North. Gen. Charles Jacoby, commander of U.S. Northern Command, provided the keynote address to participants from the White House, the U.S. Navy, the Canadian military and government and others. Military leaders from New England and Alaska, academics from UMaine and Eastern Maine Community College and key staff members from the offices of Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King were present for the event.
Working with Alaska, the Maine National Guard has helped to form an Arctic Interest Working Group that is bringing National Guard military leaders together to collaborate and share information on training opportunities, equipment issues and lessons learned.
In October, the Bangor-based 101st Air Wing of the Maine Air National Guard aircrew successfully tested advanced communications equipment while flying with the Canadian Air Force near Goose Bay, Labrador. This capability will provide much needed domain awareness in the High North.
By actively seeking a leadership role, Maine will continue to have a voice in issues relating to the significant changes in the Arctic. Through the hard work of entities of varying interests and expertise, Maine will continue to lead in climate research, economic opportunity and strategic relevance.
Last year was a good year for Maine’s efforts in the High North, but 2015 will be better.
Paul Mayewski is director of the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute. Darryl W. Lyon is a lieutenant colonel in the Maine National Guard.