Welcome to the world’s newest blue water ocean: the Arctic Ocean. You are forgiven if you think the Arctic is a mostly frozen and forbidding place covered in darkness for most of the year. It still is. But this ocean is rapidly changing: since 1979 Arctic sea ice maximum extent has dropped by an average of 2.8 percent per decade; in the summertime, the ice cap declined at 13.5 percent per decade; and the Greenland Ice Sheet lost an estimated 9,103 gigatons or over 9 trillion tons of ice since 1900 and between 25 to 35 gigatons annually. On land, the near-surface permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere is projected to decline by 20 percent relative to today’s area by 2040, and it could be reduced by as much as two-thirds by 2080 under a scenario of high greenhouse-gas emissions. We may be at the dawn of a new Arctic Age.
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The emergence of the Arctic as a region of political and economic opportunity adds a new dimension to U.S.-China relations. Despite divergent priorities in the region, there are opportunities for greater cooperation. Both countries experience the physical challenges of climate change while investing in scientific research to gain a better understanding of a transforming Arctic. They both also seek cooperation through the Arctic Council and the International Maritime Organization to promote governance in the region. For these reasons, among others, the United States and China should create a more purposeful dialogue on a range of Arctic issues. U.S.-Sino Relations in the Arctic: A Roadmap for Future Cooperation is the result of fruitful exchanges between American and Chinese experts who addressed a range of issues: the future of Arctic governance, geopolitical factors shaping the Arctic’s future, international maritime issues in the Central Arctic Ocean, future trends in sustainable Arctic development, and new bilateral scientific research initiatives in the Arctic. Through frank and candid exchanges, this report aims to lay the foundation of strong bilateral cooperation between the United States and China in the Arctic.