Alaska Wilderness League galvanizes support to secure vital policies that protect and defend America’s last great wild public lands and waters.
Alaska Wilderness League stands with, serves and supports the many people and organizations that believe in a sustainable future for Alaska. We honor and respect the cultures of Alaska Natives whose way of life remains deeply connected to the state’s land, waters and wildlife.
Our Commitment to Confront Climate Change
As part of the Arctic, Alaska is on the front lines of climate change. Alaska Wilderness League is committed to confront climate change’s causes and impacts as one essential component of our responsibilities to defend America’s last great wild public lands and waters.
We are especially committed to:
- Climate Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
- Making all of Alaska’s public lands and waters part of the climate solution
- Securing a just economic transition for Alaskans
- Enhancing climate resiliency across Alaska’s public lands and waters
- Respecting climate science and incorporating traditional knowledge of Alaskans
Our Climate Focus: Why Alaska Matters
Alaska’s pristine mountain glaciers, old growth forests, wild tundra, gushing rivers, wetlands and barrier islands are all being put at risk of adverse impacts from climate change.
Nowhere else in America is there as diverse and abundant fish and wildlife, vast herds of free roaming caribou, unparalleled wild salmon runs, and millions of birds that nest in Alaska before traveling to every state and six of seven continents.
Nowhere else in America are fish and wildlife at greater risk from climate change.
Alaska’s wild lands and waters cannot be adequately protected without both fighting to protect the health and resiliency of these ecosystems on the ground, and also fighting to protect the health of the planet’s climate systems.
The uniquely rapid pace of warming in the Arctic underscores the urgent need to slow the pace of global climate change and give Alaska’s people, flora and fauna a fighting chance to adapt.
(1) Our Commitment to Climate Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
“Indigenous Peoples’ voices are not being heard while our responsibility is to our lands and waters, while current State-led responses to climate change around the world are not sufficiently responsive to the dire circumstances.”
- 2019 Arctic Leaders’ Summit declaration
Alaska Wilderness League’s commitment to confront climate change is centered in justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. A foundation of our work is standing with and supporting Alaska’s Indigenous people, who have historically lived on and protected the lands that we now work to preserve. We must elevate the voices of these communities, uplifting their history, perspectives, values and voices, while recognizing the disproportionate impact changing climate has on low income and communities of color in Alaska and across the country alike. Put simply, what happens in the Arctic affects us all, with broad impacts in the region and reaching far beyond.
Additional Background: The heaviest burdens from climate change will unjustly fall on the shoulders of Alaska Natives and other rural Alaskans who are inexorably tied to the health and sound stewardship of Alaska’s natural resources. These threatened natural resources support hunting, fishing, tourism and unrivaled outdoor experiences that are central to Alaskans’ quality of life, along with the broader effects that extend across the country.
(2) Our Commitment to Making All of Alaska’s Public Lands and Waters Part of the Climate Solution
“We show that development of resources in the Arctic and any increase in unconventional oil production are incommensurate with efforts to limit average global warming to 2 °C … All Arctic resources should be classified as unburnable.”
- Nature, 2015
“Humans are changing Earth’s climate. CO2 is one of the main greenhouse gases of importance to Earth’s energy balance. The present level of atmospheric CO2 is almost certainly unprecedented in the past million years, during which time modern humans evolved and societies developed. Human activities — including extracting long-buried fossil fuels and burning them for energy, deforestation, and other land use changes — are responsible for the increase in atmospheric CO2.”
- The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
“This Agreement … aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty, including by: (a) Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change...”
- Paris Agreement, 2015
“The report finds that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air.”
- IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, 2018
Alaska Wilderness League believes Alaska’s public lands and waters are an indispensable part of a broader set of climate solutions. We acknowledge that the severity of the problem will require rapid and far-reaching transitions of current policies that go beyond our scope of influence, but we aim to work collaboratively with other stakeholders, political leaders and others in pursuit of measurable and feasible steps toward addressing the crisis.
Additional Background: Meeting the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement and significantly reducing the risks and impacts of climate change will require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy as well as preservation and expansion of carbon reservoirs contained in forests and other wild lands.
Nature must be part of the solution. The first principle of any climate response should be to protect the natural places that protect us. Leaders in climate and conservation recently issued a report explaining that as a solution to climate change, we need to protect 30% of the planet by 2030 to help store carbon and other greenhouse gases. The vast lands and waters of Alaska are key to achieving this goal.
In Alaska, 225 million acres of land are owned by all Americans in the form of federal public lands, and protecting Alaska’s wild places should be at the vanguard of any climate response plan because it simultaneously keeps emissions out of the atmosphere and provides healthier, more resilient habitat for fish and wildlife to survive the Arctic’s rapid changes.
Many of these lands, such as the Tongass National Forest, are critical global carbon reservoirs that must be protected as part of the climate solution. Ultimately, the world needs to achieve “net zero” emissions in order to stabilize the climate, meaning that any emissions of CO2 and other heat-trapping gases would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air, primarily through natural carbon uptake of our lands and oceans. This will require both a significant decrease in emissions and an increase in carbon removal. Currently, the United States emits about seven times as much CO2 as is removed from the air by forests, grasslands and other land reservoirs (or “sinks”) every year. We support efforts to ensure that America’s public lands, waters, and oceans capture and store more climate emissions than they produce by 2030.
In order to meet international climate goals, the United States must more aggressively transition away from fossil fuels. In fact, according to the UNEP, governments worldwide are planning to produce about 120% more fossil fuels than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C. Even meeting the less protective goal of 2°C, a third of recoverable oil reserves should remain unused from 2010 to 2050, according to studies. We show that development of resources in the Arctic and any increase in unconventional oil production are incommensurate with efforts to limit average global warming to 2°C.
In Alaska, where wild lands are also home to significant stores of carbon in the form of oil, gas and coal, we also cannot afford business as usual. Alaska Wilderness League favors an immediate pause of new oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters. This pause will allow time to evaluate how to align Alaska public lands management and leasing policies with national climate goals.
With more than 36 million acres already under lease by the oil and gas industry on public lands across the U.S including 1.5 million in Alaska, there are already enormous reserves available to meet near term demands without making long-term, multi-billion dollar investments to extract oil from some of the most remote, wild and spectacular places left on the planet.
(3) Our Commitment to Securing a Just Economic Transition for Alaskans
“Americans face the dual crises of climate change and increasing economic inequality, and for far too long, we’ve allowed the forces driving both crises to create a wedge between the need for economic security and a living environment. We know this is a false choice — we know that we can and must have both, and we need a bold plan to address both simultaneously.”
- BlueGreen Alliance, “Solidarity for Climate Action, 2019
Alaska Wilderness League recognizes Alaska’s unique economic reliance on oil and gas revenues, and we are committed to a just economic transition for Alaskans, especially for front-line and indigenous communities. We don’t have all the answers, but we know that early and inclusive dialogue, planning and action will be far better for Alaskans than ignoring difficult issues. Also, as the transition to new energy sources accelerates, we will be an advocate for ensuring that economic and environmental benefits of climate change solutions support Alaska’s hardest hit workers and communities.
Additional Background: Some have suggested that, even knowing that global efforts to slow climate change could reduce global oil demand, that the “last drop” of the world’s oil consumption should come from Alaska’s North Slope. Alaska Wilderness League believes that this approach offers a dangerous illusion of economic security from oil and gas revenue that will only harm Alaskans in the long run. Rather than building false hopes of selling the last drop of oil, Alaska would be far better served to realistically assess the continued impact of low global oil prices on Alaska’s financial future. Alaska can’t drill its way out of the financial crisis the state is currently experiencing.
(4) Our Commitment to Enhancing Climate Resiliency across Alaska’s Public Lands and Waters
“It shall be the policy of the United States to enhance the resilience of the northern Bering Sea region by conserving the region's ecosystem, including those natural resources that provide important cultural and subsistence value and services to the people of the region. For the purpose of carrying out the specific directives provided herein, this order delineates an area hereafter referred to as the “Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area…”
- Executive Order 13754 (2016) “Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience”
(revoked by Donald Trump, 2017)
“Arctic lakes are disappearing (Smith et al. 2005), wetlands depletion is occurring following permafrost disturbance by thermo-erosion (Perreault et al. 20 17), and ponds that have been permanent water bodies for millennia, are now completely drying during the polar summer (Smol and Douglas 2007). Therefore, Arctic habitats are already impacted and this loss is predicted to expand in the future.”
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (2019) "Comments on the 2018 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska"
Alaska Wilderness League is committed to enhance the resilience of Alaska’s public lands and waters by conserving their ecosystems in this time of change. We will advocate for policies that help to identify, mitigate and otherwise minimize climate-caused damage to the flora, fauna and communities in the Alaskan Arctic.
(5) Our Commitment to Respecting Climate Science and Incorporating Traditional Knowledge of Alaskans
Alaska Wilderness League is committed to problem-solving that is guided by both traditional knowledge and science, and we aim to help bridge the gap between the two as policies are considered or implemented in Washington, D.C.
Additional Background: Overwhelmingly, the experience of Alaskans and the vast collection of scientific evidence confirms that Alaska is on the front lines of climate change. See Appendix for highlights from scientific reports and traditional knowledge.