The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
U.S. Dismisses Climate Change at Arctic Council Summit: Pompeo Says Melting Sea Ice Brings ‘New Opportunities for Trade’
For the first time since it was founded in 1996, the Arctic Council didn't release a joint declaration outlining its priorities after a summit in Rovaniemi, Finland Monday and Tuesday. The reason? The insistence by the U.S. that the statement not mention climate change or the Paris agreement designed to combat it, The New York Times reported.
The U.S. objections come as the Arctic just experienced its five warmest years on record, and is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world.
"The others felt they could not water down climate change sentences," Finnish delegate Timo Koivurova told BBC News.
Instead, the council, which consists of eight Arctic nations, as well as indigenous communities in the region, issued a brief statement pledging its "commitment to maintain peace, stability and constructive co-operation in the Arctic," as Time reported.
Eight Ministers from the Arctic States and six Permanent Participant Head of Delegation gathered for a traditional Ministerial meeting family photo and are now ready to begin the #ArcticMinisterial2019. pic.twitter.com/fYJqf1dcE0— Arctic Council (@ArcticCouncil) May 7, 2019
The council, whose members include the U.S., Canada, Russia, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Iceland, meets every two years to discuss environmental and economic issues in the region, BBC News explained. Its statements are agreed to by consensus, which means any member country can block them, according to The New York Times.
Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini, whose country has chaired the council for the last two years with a focus on climate change, told the press he didn't want to "name and blame anybody" and called the summit's outcome "good enough," according to Time. However, in other statements he made it clear that the U.S. was isolated in its climate denial.
"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," Soini said in a statement reported by The New York Times.
However, while the U.S. blocked the council from mentioning climate change, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not shy away from putting a positive spin on its impacts: the melting of Arctic sea ice.
"Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new passageways and new opportunities for trade," he said in a speech Monday reported by BBC News. "This could potentially slash the time it takes to travel between Asia and the West by as much as 20 days. Arctic sea lanes could become the 21st-Century Suez and Panama Canals."
Scientists and environmentalists, on the other hand, have warned that a reduction in Arctic sea ice could harm Arctic wildlife like polar bears and marine life, as well as contribute to sea level rise.
Several delegates at the summit did speak of the negative impact climate change was having on their communities.
"The effect of climate change is being felt most acutely here," Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said, according to The New York Times.
Representatives of indigenous communities spoke in the most detail of how climate impacts like wildfires, coastal erosion and melting ice and permafrost were altering the lives of people who had lived in the region for generations.
"We recognize that climate change is real," Arctic Athabaskan Council Chairman Bill Erasmus told Time, expressing regret that the council had not arrived at a detailed statement. "Climate change is man-made, and our elders tell us that we are clearly in trouble."
Pompeo mentioned the importance of protecting the Arctic's "fragile ecosystem" in remarks Tuesday, and an anonymous senior U.S. official said that the country could be committed to the environment without using particular words.
"Just because you don't have a certain phrase in it, you can't infer that the United States has taken a position that is anti-environment," the official said, as Time reported.
But a commitment to increased shipping could be at odds with environmental protections. Scientists have warned that more frequent transport in the Arctic could increase pollution, BBC News said.
- Here's what vanishing sea ice in the Arctic means for you - The Verge ›
- U.S. Refuses to Recognize Threat of Arctic Climate Change as ... ›
- Power Up: Pompeo leaves Arctic countries out in cold on climate ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Colorado senator and 2020 hopeful Michael Bennet introduced his plan to combat climate change Monday, in the first major policy rollout of his campaign. Bennet's plan calls for the establishment of a "Climate Bank," using $1 trillion in federal spending to "catalyze" $10 trillion in private spending for the U.S. to transition entirely to net-zero emissions by 2050.
When Trump's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its replacement for the Obama-era Clean Power Plan in August 2018, its own estimates said the reduced regulations could lead to 1,400 early deaths a year from air pollution by 2030.
Now, the EPA wants to change the way it calculates the risks posed by particulate matter pollution, using a model that would lower the death toll from the new plan, The New York Times reported Monday. Five current or former EPA officials familiar with the plan told The Times that the new method would assume there is no significant health gain by lowering air pollution levels below the legal limit. However, many public health experts say that there is no safe level of particulate matter exposure, which has long been linked to heart and lung disease.
By Andrea Germanos
Animal welfare advocates are praising soon-to-be introduced legislation in the U.S. that would ban the use of wild animals in traveling circuses.
By Tara Lohan
It's been the wettest 12 months on record in the continental United States. Parts of the High Plains and Midwest are still reeling from deadly, destructive and expensive spring floods — some of which have lasted for three months.
Mounting bills from natural disasters like these have prompted renewed calls to reform the National Flood Insurance Program, which is managed by Federal Emergency Management Agency and is now $20 billion in debt.