Oops, it's melting. Sorry 'bout that.
Oops, it’s melting. Sorry ’bout that.
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“Hello, world? Hey, John Kerry here. Just wanted to apologize for all those decades of America’s non-leadership on that crazy global warming thing. But now we’ve decided to start making some nice sounds about the issue. Hope you can hear me making them over the din of the Arctic ice breaking up behind me.”

OK, so the Secretary of State didn’t actually say that. But the leader of the department that will rule on the climate-changing Keystone XL pipeline proposal has begun apologizing for the nation’s lack of progress in tackling climate change.

“I regret that my own country — and President Obama knows this and is committed to changing it — needs to do more and we are committed to doing more,” Kerry said Tuesday, referring to climate change, in a press conference with Sweden’s prime minister.

Kerry is in Sweden to attend meetings in the country’s northernmost city of Kiruna of the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum for governments that have a stake in the fate of the fast-melting region. As the Arctic melts, new shipping routes and oil fields are opening up, and the international community is going to need to coordinate and temper the scramble to cash in on these new opportunities.

“We come here to Kiruna with a great understanding of the challenge to the Arctic as the ice melts, as the ecosystem is challenged, the fisheries, and the possibilities of increased commercial traffic as a result of the lack of ice raises a whole set of other issues that we need to face up to,” Kerry said during the press conference. “So it’s not just an environmental issue and it’s not just an economic issue. It is a security issue, a fundamental security issue that affects life as we know it on the planet itself, and it demands urgent attention from all of us.”

The Obama administration on Friday released the National Strategy for the Arctic Region [PDF]. The strategy pledges to “enable our vessels and aircraft to operate … through, under, and over the airspace and waters of the Arctic, support lawful commerce … and intelligently evolve our Arctic infrastructure and capabilities.” All done sustainably and in harmony with other nations, of course. But the 11-page document is not so much a detailed strategy document as it is a vague wish-list for the future of the region, and no federal funds have been committed to turn the strategy’s goals into reality.

That said, the attention that the U.S. is affording the Arctic Council is politically significant. From the BBC:

Mr. Kerry, who held one of the first US Senate hearings on climate change as early as 1988 with then-Senator Al Gore, is hoping to put the spotlight on the issue of climate change again, after efforts to make concrete progress faltered during President Barack Obama’s first term.

Despite a multitude of international crises, Mr. Kerry insisted on attending the meeting of the once-obscure council.

Climate change has countries as far away as India also paying attention to the Arctic — and seeking observer status in the council.

What the Arctic most needs, of course, is a fast and deep cut in the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Actions leading to that — like, say, rejecting the Keystone XL Pipeline — will carry more weight than press-conference words.