Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says it’s a “disappointment" that eight nations bordering on the Arctic could not reach a consensus on a communique about challenges in the north that mentions climate change.
A meeting of the Arctic Council in Rovaniemi, Finland, on Tuesday was supposed to frame a two-year agenda to balance the challenge of global warming with sustainable development of mineral wealth.
But sources with knowledge of the discussions said the United States balked at signing a final declaration because it disagreed with wording that called climate change a serious threat to the Arctic.
With temperatures in the Arctic rising at twice the rate of the rest of the globe, melting ice is creating potential new shipping lanes and has opened untapped reserves of oil and gas to commercial exploitation.
After the meeting, Ms. Freeland told reporters on a teleconference from the airport that she spoke “very clearly” about the threat posed by climate change, especially in the Arctic.
Ms. Freeland said she spoke with other ministers, including U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in their bilateral meeting, about climate change, adding that Canada and other members of the Arctic Council feel that it is “a disappointment that we weren’t able to reach a shared communique that we all agreed with.”
“We were certainly not prepared to have an agreed communique that didn’t forthrightly and clearly speak about climate change,” Ms. Freeland said, adding that “the science is very clear and we need to be clear about that in everything that we say and we are."
Ms. Freeland said it’s also important for Canada to recognize, “as we do with sadness,” that the United States has also been clear about its position, referring to the country’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord, which sets targets for reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.
But Ms. Freeland said, “We have to move on.”
She said Canada has to go ahead with its own policies at home and with all of the other countries that want to co-operate on fighting climate change.
The Arctic Council was established in Ottawa in 1996. The ministerial council rotates the office of chair among member countries every two years. The council’s members include Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, the United States and Indigenous groups.
The council’s website says its goal is to provide a “means for promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction,” among the Arctic states and with the involvement of Arctic Indigenous communities and inhabitants.
This was the first time since the council’s creation that the eight countries could not agree on a joint declaration. Instead of a joint communique, the ministers released a statement that reiterated their commitment to sustainable development and the protection of the Arctic environment.
“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," Finnish Foreign Affairs Minister Timo Soini, the chair of the meeting, said in a statement. He told reporters he did not want to “name and blame anyone."
“A climate crisis in the Arctic is not a future scenario, it is happening as we speak,” Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister Margot Wallstrom warned in her address to the council.
Mr. Pompeo said in his address that President Donald Trump’s administration “shares your deep commitment to environmental stewardship” in the Arctic.
The Inuit Circumpolar Council, which represents 165,000 Inuit in Greenland, Canada, Alaska and Chukotka, Russia, said in a statement that the United States has set an “unfortunate precedent” by refusing to agree to language that would allow the Arctic Council to issue a final statement.
“Refusing to allow the words ‘climate change’ into the declaration is a moral failure,” said Dalee Sambo Dorough, international chair of the circumpolar council.
Ms. Sambo Dorough called it a “serious blow” to the future of what is meant to be a consensus-based group.
“Inuit are feeling the effects of climate change everyday," she said. “While the U.S. government concerns itself with semantics, playing games with words, our people are witnessing the adverse impacts of climate change. What about us and our reality?”