U.S. Blocks Climate Language in Arctic Council Declaration
The biennial Arctic Council summit failed this week to release a joint statement for the first time since the organization formed in 1996, after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo objected to draft language on climate change, BBC reports.
Amid international concern that the Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world, “the others felt they could not water down the climate change sentences,” said Finnish delegate Timo Koivurova. But when Pompeo arrived at the meeting in Rovaniemi, northern Finland, he had a decidedly different take on a level of ice loss and sea level rise that is already wreaking havoc on Arctic communities and ecosystems.
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“Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new passageways and new opportunities for trade,” Pompeo told the meeting. “This could potentially slash the time it takes to travel between Asia and the West by as much as 20 days,” with the result that “Arctic sea lanes could become the 21st-Century Suez and Panama Canals.”
In lieu of a joint statement, the Arctic Council—with representation from the eight circumpolar countries plus Indigenous nations in the region—briefly affirmed its “commitment to maintain peace, stability, and constructive co-operation in the Arctic,” EcoWatch reports.
“Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini, whose country has chaired the council for the last two years with a focus on climate change, told the press he didn’t want to ‘name and blame anybody’ and called the summit’s outcome ‘good enough’,” EcoWatch adds, citing a news report in Time. “However, in other statements, he made it clear that the U.S. was isolated in its climate denial.”
“A majority of us regarded climate change as a fundamental challenge facing the Arctic and acknowledged the urgent need to take mitigation and adaptation actions and to strengthen resilience,” Soini said, in a 10-page statement cited by the New York Times.
“The isolation of the United States could not be laid out more starkly, and that, too, in a forum made up mostly of staunch allies like Canada and Denmark,” the Times notes. “That statement detailed the council’s work on a variety of topics, including marine pollution and helping Arctic communities adapt to the thawing of permafrost. The statement also said most council members had welcomed the Paris Agreement and ‘noted with concern’ the findings of a United Nations scientific panel that warned of worsening food shortages as soon as 2040 without a drastic transformation of the world economy.”
The Times says Arctic foreign ministers repeatedly focused on the climate crisis during the official session Tuesday morning. “The effect of climate change is being felt most acutely here,” said Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland. “It’s happening as we speak,” agreed Swedish Foreign Minister, Margot Wallstrom, who expressed regret that “we did not manage to agree on joint declaration.”
In an article for The New Yorker, 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben says the “opposite world views fighting for the planet’s future” have rarely been visible in such sharp focus, with a UN commission on biodiversity warning of the imminent extinction of up to a million plant and animal species just a day before the U.S. made it impossible for the Arctic Council to reach consensus on its climate declaration.The Clean Arctic Alliance stepped beyond the diplomatic language that is generally the price of entry for official delegates attending international gatherings. “The U.S. government’s blatant disregard of the changes taking place in the Arctic—which has lost three-quarters of summer sea ice in the last four decades—only serves to underline the need for the Arctic nations to reaffirm their commitment to reducing black carbon emissions, through collaboration within the International Maritime Organization,” said lead advisor Dr. Sian Prior.