1157 GMT November 14, 2019
Temperatures in the Arctic are rising at twice the rate of the rest of the globe, and melting ice has opened vast untapped oil and gas reserves to potential commercial exploitation, Reuters reported.
A meeting of nations bordering the Arctic in Rovaniemi in northern Finland on Tuesday was supposed to frame a two-year agenda to balance the challenges of climate change with sustainable development of mineral wealth.
But Finland’s Foreign Minister Timo Soini said the joint declaration was “off the table” and would be replaced by a short statement from ministers attending the conference.
Soini, whose country was wrapping up its two-year chairmanship of the council, said there will be no joint declaration as the summit couldn't get the US to agree on a text that includes language about climate change.
A senior US official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, downplayed the failure to craft a declaration and defended US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's omission of "climate change" from remarks, AP reported.
"Just because you don't have a certain phrase in it, you can't infer that the United States has taken a position that is anti-environment," the official said.
A diplomatic source with knowledge of the discussions said the US balked at signing as it disagreed with wording in the declaration stating that climate change was a serious threat to the Arctic. A second source confirmed that.
It was the first time a declaration had been canceled since the Arctic Council was formed in 1996. The US delegation could not immediately be reached for a comment.
New economic opportunity
Addressing the council, the US secretary of state said President Donald Trump’s administration “shares your deep commitment to environmental stewardship” in the Arctic. But he said collective goals were not always the answer.
AP wrote on Tuesday that for the Trump administration, disappearing sea ice in the world's "high north" appears to be first and foremost an economic opportunity to exploit rather than a crisis to mitigate.
That position was made clear by Pompeo over two days of meetings in Rovaniemi involving the foreign ministers of the eight members of the Arctic Council — Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US.
"Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new naval passageways and new opportunities for trade, potentially slashing the time it takes for ships to travel between Asia and the West by 20 days," he said in a speech Monday, which was met with polite but muted applause.
"Arctic sea lanes could become the 21st century's Suez and Panama Canals."
“They are rendered meaningless and even counterproductive as soon as one nation fails to comply,” he said.
Trump has frequently expressed skepticism about whether global warming is a result of human activity and has stood by his 2017 decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement signed by almost 200 governments in 2015. That has put him at odds with campaigners and many other countries.
The Paris Agreement agreed to limit a rise in average global temperatures to “well below” 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial times by 2100. Worldwide, temperatures are up about 1C (1.8F).
Over the summit, Pompeo also defended Trump's decision to pull the US out of the climate accord, a day after a UN biodiversity report warned that extinction loomed for over one million species of plants and animals.
"Collective goals, even when well-intentioned, are not always the answer," Pompeo said. "They are rendered meaningless, even counterproductive, as soon as one nation fails to comply."
Official US statements and documents prepared for the meeting did not refer to "climate change" and their scientific focus was limited to reductions in US carbon emissions that predate the administration and research.
According to statistics Pompeo presented, U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions fell by 14% between 2005 and 2017, while global energy-related CO2 emissions increased more than 20%. In terms of black carbon, which is a particular threat to the Arctic, U.S. emissions were 16% below 2013 levels in 2016 and are projected to nearly halve by 2025, he said.
“A climate crisis in the Arctic is not a future scenario, it is happening as we speak,” Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said in her address to the council.
Bill Erasmus, the chairman of the Arctic Athabaskan Council, a Canada-based group of indigenous people, expressed disappointment that a joint declaration had not been reached.
"We recognize that climate change is real," he said. "Climate change is man-made, and our elders tell us that we are clearly in trouble."
Iceland's Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson was bleak in his assessment.
"We can expect due to climate change more drastic changes in the next two decades than we have seen in the last 100 years," he said.