U.S. Pressure Blocks Declaration on Climate Change at Arctic Talks
ROVANIEMI, Finland — Under pressure from the United States, the Arctic Council issued a short joint statement on Tuesday that excluded any mention of climate change.
It was the first time since its formation in 1996 that the council had been unable to issue a joint declaration spelling out its priorities. As an international organization made up of eight Arctic countries and representatives of indigenous groups in the region, its stated mission is cooperation on Arctic issues, particularly the protection of the region’s fragile environment.
According to diplomats involved in the negotiations, at issue was the United States’ insistence not to mention the latest science on climate change or the Paris Agreement aimed at averting its worst effects. The omission is especially notable because scientists have warned that the Arctic is heating up far faster than the world average because of rising greenhouse gas emissions.
Foreign Minister Timo Soini of Finland, the council’s outgoing chairman, made it clear, without naming names, that resistance to climate action was a minority opinion.
“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,” Mr. Soini said in his 10-page statement.
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.
Negotiations over competing versions of a declaration that every country could agree to have taken weeks. Arctic Council statements are issued on the basis of consensus, and an objection from any member country can scuttle adoption.
The statement, along with the chairman’s more detailed report, was finalized at 8 a.m. Tuesday, only two hours before council members gathered for a group photograph.
Mr. Soini said later on Tuesday that he would not call out any member by name for blocking consensus, except that “it is clear climate issues are different from the different viewpoints and from the different capitals.”
Tuesday morning, as the foreign ministers met for their official session, speaker after speaker warned about climate change.
“The effect of climate change is being felt most acutely here,” Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland of Canada said, referring to the Arctic.
“It’s happening as we speak,” the Swedish foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, said, expressing regret that “we did not manage to agree on joint declaration.”
Speakers from the indigenous groups that belong to the council offered the most sustained testimony about living with climate change, speaking of how deteriorating permafrost, wildfires, coastal erosion and melting sea ice had affected communities that have lived in the Arctic for centuries.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the final speaker, said the United States was committed to protecting the “fragile ecosystem” of the Arctic. But he focused much of his speech on concerns about expanding Chinese influence in the region.
For more news on climate and the environment, follow @NYTClimate on Twitter.