Clash Over Climate Change Wording Blocks Arctic Accord

ROVANIEMI, Finland (AP, Reuters) -
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with Finnish security officers as he leaves the Arctic Council summit, Tuesday. (Mandel Ngan/Pool via Reuters)

Finnish Foreign Ministry Timo Soini said Tuesday there will be no joint declaration at the Arctic Summit, after the United States did not accept a text that includes language about climate change. Instead, he said there would be statements from ministers and Finland, which currently holds the chair of the Arctic Council.

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.

A diplomatic source with knowledge of the discussions said the United States 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. 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.

Official U.S. statements and documents prepared for the meeting did not refer to “climate change” and their scientific focus was limited to reductions in U.S. carbon emissions that predate the administration and research.

In a roughly 20-minute speech outlining the Trump administration’s Arctic policy on Monday, Pompeo acknowledged melting ice but didn’t use the phrase “climate change.” In fact his address was largely an admonition against increasing Russian and Chinese activity in the Arctic. Nor did he indicate that the administration places any priority on easing the melting that scientists say is already causing oceans to rise.

“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 the speech, adding that “Arctic sea lanes could become the 21st century’s Suez and Panama Canals.”

Asked directly about climate change and the Arctic in an interview with a Finnish newspaper, Pompeo declined the opportunity to mention the phrase and downplayed the importance of the Paris climate accord from which President Donald Trump pulled out.

“My view on this and President Trump’s view on this is that we should put all our emphasis on outcomes,” he said. “We can call it whatever we like, but I shared some of the data in the speech. The United States is kicking it when it comes to getting its CO2 down. I mean, compare it to China, compare it to Russia, compare it, frankly, to many European nations, each of whom signed the Paris agreement.” The Paris accord, which the U.S. did not sign on, agreed to limit a rise in average global temperatures to “well below” 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial times by 2100.

According to the statistics he 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.

The Arctic Council consists of the United States, Canada, Russia, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Iceland. Agreements between countries are non-binding.