Climate change missing as US defends Arctic policy

The Arctic is melting, but don't ask U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to mention climate change

ByMATTHEW LEE AP Diplomatic Writer
May 7, 2019, 4:52 AM

ROVANIEMI, Finland -- The Arctic is melting, but don't ask U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to mention climate change. Nor to agree a text that mentions it.

For the Trump administration, disappearing sea ice in the world's "high north" is first and foremost an opportunity to exploit rather than a crisis to mitigate.

That position was made clear by Pompeo over two days as the foreign ministers of the eight members of the Arctic Council met in Finland, which is wrapping up its two-year chairmanship of the Arctic Council.

Finnish Foreign Ministry Timo Soini said Tuesday there will be no joint declaration at the after the summit couldn't get the United States to agree on 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.

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 have some real concerns," he said. "We recognize that climate change is real. Climate change is man-made, and our elders tell us that we are clearly in trouble."

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, which was met with polite but muted applause.

"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.

"My view on this and President Trump's view on this is what we should put all our emphasis on I 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."

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.

"I'm sure it was a good party," Pompeo said of the negotiations in Paris. "I'm sure it felt good to sign the agreement. But at the end of the day, what matters to human health, what matters to the citizens of the world, is that we actually have an impact on improving health. And our technology, our innovation, the R&D we put in in the United States, that's what will drive better climatic outcomes, that's what will create cleaner air and safer drinking water, and that's what I hope the whole world will focus on."

Pompeo again declined the opportunity to mention "climate change" on Tuesday when he met with Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland who pointedly referred to the phenomenon as she played down a dispute with the United States over the sovereignty of the Northwest Passage.

"We have a very close, very fruitful collaboration," she said. "And actually, as we see the conditions of the Northwest Passage changing with our changing climate, I think that's actually grounds for closer collaboration with the United States."

Pompeo replied by saying the U.S. is more concerned about Russia and China in the Arctic than ownership of the Northwest Passage.

"The challenges in the Arctic aren't between the United States and Canada, let me assure you," he said. "There are others that threaten to use it in ways that are not consistent with the rule of law."

Canada's Freeland said recent scientific studies that indicate temperatures could increase in Canada's Arctic by 11 degrees Celsius (52 degrees Fahrenheit) are "terrifying" and that "we have a responsibility to be part of a collective solution."

She also noted that "unpredictable weather patterns caused by climate change" are causing security threats and navigational issues.

Soini, the Finnish foreign minister, said his country had sought to use its position to highlight and ease "the rapid change of the Arctic climate and its impact on nature and people."

His Icelandic counterpart, 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.

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