U.S. Arctic Interests
The recent retreat of sea ice in the Arctic is expected to expose billions in economic opportunity. With nations’ interests in the region growing, the United States has implemented an Arctic strategy focusing on security, stewardship, and international cooperation.
Numerous scientific studies, assessments, and government reports have documented the environmental changes occurring in the Arctic, which can create both economic opportunities and environmental challenges. As Arctic waterways become more accessible with the declining extent in sea ice coverage, the region has attracted greater global attention for its economic opportunities. It contains an estimated 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil, 30 percent of undiscovered gas, and some $1 trillion worth of gold, zinc, nickel, and platinum. Melting sea ice could also increase the use of three trans-Arctic routes—the Northern Sea Route, Northwest Passage, and Transpolar Route—saving several thousands of miles and several days of sailing between major trading blocs (figure 1).
Figure 1: Trans-Arctic Sea Routes
At the same time, recent environmental changes have created challenges for the people living in the Arctic and the ecosystem upon which many of them rely for culture and sustenance. For example, coastal erosion has threatened many Arctic Alaska Native villages, forcing a number of villages to consider relocating. In addition, Alaska Natives have observed changes in the health or availability of many of the plant and animal species important for their subsistence way of life.
In response to these changes, the President issued the National Strategy for the Arctic Region in May 2013. The document articulates the administration’s strategic priorities for the Arctic, including efforts to advance U.S. security interests, pursue responsible Arctic stewardship, and strengthen international cooperation. In addition, the administration released the Implementation Plan for the National Strategy for the Arctic Region in January 2014, which sets forth the methodology, process, and approach for executing the strategy, including a framework to guide federal activities in the region. Further, in January 2015, the President issued an executive order that established an Arctic Executive Steering Committee to enhance coordination of national efforts in the Arctic. The United States coordinates with other Arctic countries—Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden—and indigenous organizations through the Arctic Council, a voluntary intergovernmental forum focused on environmental and economic development issues. A wide variety of federal stakeholders have Arctic roles and responsibilities, ranging from scientific research to resource development.
GAO-15-566: Published: Jun 19, 2015. Publicly Released: Jun 19, 2015.
GAO-15-72: Published: Mar 25, 2015. Publicly Released: Mar 25, 2015.
GAO-14-435: Published: May 16, 2014. Publicly Released: May 19, 2014.
GAO-14-299: Published: Mar 19, 2014. Publicly Released: Apr 18, 2014.
GAO-12-180: Published: Jan 13, 2012. Publicly Released: Jan 13, 2012.
GAO-10-870: Published: Sep 15, 2010. Publicly Released: Oct 15, 2010.