May 7, 2019

U.S. objections to climate change language throw wrench in Arctic diplomacy

Mike Pompeo leaves the stage after speaking on Arctic policy in Rovaniemi, Finland, on May 6. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

The Arctic Council ministerial in Rovaniemi, Finland, ended on Tuesday without a ministerial declaration, due to U.S. objections over referencing climate change and the Paris Climate Agreement. This was the first time since the council was created in 1996 that no declaration was reached.

Why it matters: Climate change is rapidly redefining the Arctic region, which is warming at more than twice the rate of the rest of the planet. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo focused his council statements at the edge of the Arctic Circle not on climate change, but security — which is not a typical concern for the consensus-based Arctic Council.

Details: The U.S. objected to any mention of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) 1.5⁰C global warming report in the council's closing declaration, as well as any references to the Paris Climate Agreement. President Trump has vowed to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

On Monday, Pompeo focused on the "opportunities" presented by global warming.

  • “Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new naval passageways and new opportunities for trade,” Pompeo said in his speech, in reference to the Arctic's disappearing sea ice, which is caused by climate change. He also warned about China and Russia's growing "aggressive behavior" in the Arctic.
  • "His remarks appeared to shock many diplomats and observers, because the Arctic Council’s mandate has nothing to do with security issues," the NYT reports.

The divide: Instead of the customary ministerial declaration, the council issued a one-page statement with little to no details or concrete statements. The Finnish chairman's accompanying 9-page statement describes the majority of Arctic countries' concern for climate change's impacts in the Arctic region.

"The politics of the Trump administration have undoubtedly arrived in the Arctic and present a serious challenge to the cooperative nature and work of the Arctic Council."
— Malte Humpert, senior fellow and founder of The Arctic Institute
“The Arctic is rapidly unraveling, Pompeo and the administration [don’t] understand it, [don’t] acknowledge it, and [don’t] understand its threat to the U.S. The fate of the Arctic is the fate of the coastal U.S., including the whole state of Florida.”
— Rafe Pomerance, chairman of Arctic 21 and senior fellow at the Woods Hole Research Center

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