High-level officials from the world's eight Arctic nations will meet in Alaska amid concerns about the future of the sensitive region after US President Donald Trump called for more oil drilling and development.
Among those expected to attend the meeting of the Arctic Council beginning Thursday in Fairbanks are US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who met on Wednesday with Trump and Tillerson in Washington DC.
No formal discussions were set in Alaska but key issues such as climate change, development and drilling will provide a backdrop as the chairmanship of the council passes from the US to Finland.
Uncertainty over Trump's Arctic policy
"We are unsure what the Trump administration thinks about the Arctic region in general, about the Arctic Council in particular and about its role," said Victoria Herrmann, president of The Arctic Institute, a Washington, DC-based group that provides research to shape Arctic policy.
The Arctic Council is an advisory body that promotes cooperation among member nations and indigenous groups. Its focus is sustainable development and environmental protection of the Arctic.
It does not make policy or allocate resources, and its decisions must be unanimous.
"In terms of being a reflection of a nation's priorities, it can only go so far since all eight have to agree to the same thing," said Nils Andreassen, executive director of the Anchorage-based Institute of the North, a non-partisan organisation focused on Arctic resources.
Tillerson arrived in Fairbanks late Wednesday afternoon and immediately held a meeting with a congressional delegation as well as Arctic representatives from Alaska's indigenous people.
Protests greet Tillerson's presence
Protesters gathered in a city park nearby to denounce the presence of Tillerson, who was president of oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp.
"My message for Rex Tillerson is: Alaska shouldn't be for sale for what's in our earth," said Hannah Hill, 36, who works at a Fairbanks soup kitchen.
"This place is beautiful, and this place is delicate, and what already is happening on in the Arctic will affect the rest of the Earth. And that is science."
Pat Lambert, a retired University of Alaska professor, attended the rally because he believes climate change is a serious problem.
After the rally, the protesters marched behind a sign reading, "Welcome to the frontline of climate change," to the building where the Arctic Council welcoming celebration was being held.
The United States – an Arctic country because of the state of Alaska – is joined on the council by Canada, Russia, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.
The US began chairing the council two years ago. Much of the council's work during that time stemmed from the policies of President Barack Obama, who made climate change and the Arctic priorities of his administration.
Trump has promised to undo much of the Obama administration's work on protecting the environment and providing the US with alternatives to fossil fuel-based energy.
One of the council's last official acts before the chairmanship is handed to Finland will be issuing the Fairbanks Declaration, which in part will outline the focus of upcoming work by the Arctic Council during the next two years.
The declaration should provide some understanding of how the US is approaching the Arctic.