The United States has refused to sign a declaration on environmental stewardship in the Arctic because of a disagreement over the wording of the threat posed to the region by climate change, say diplomats who were involved in the talks.
At a meeting of all eight nations that border the Arctic, known as the Arctic Council, in Rovaniemi in Finland an agreement was meant to be reached on a two-year agenda to balance the sustainable development of mineral wealth and global warming in the region, Reuters reports.
But sources close to the discussions said the United States refused to sign a final declaration at the last minute because it disagreed that climate change was a serious threat to the Arctic.
This was the first time that a declaration has been cancelled since 1996, when the Arctic Council was formed. The council is made up of the US, Russia, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland.
Instead, ministers from the eight nations issued a watered-down statement repeating their commitment to sustainable development in the region and the protection of the Arctic environment. Except for the US, other nations had wanted a more robust stance on climate change.
“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,” Timo Soini, the Finnish Foreign Minister, who chaired the meeting, said in a statement.
US Denies it Sunk Agreement
But the US State Department denied it had been reluctant to act over climate change in the Arctic and pointed the finger at Russia and China for not playing by the rules.
“There were several different versions of the declaration going around. The US was ready to sign,” insisted a US official who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, while addressing the council, that collective goals are not the answer.
“Collective goals are rendered meaningless, even counter productive as soon as one nation fails to comply,” said Pompeo.
US intransigence over global warming is nothing new. President Trump has said he is sceptical whether global warming is the result of human activity and withdrew the US from the Paris climate accord, which was signed by 200 governments in 2015.
Arctic temperatures are rising twice as fast as in the rest of the world and pose a serious threat to the region’s wildlife and indigenous populations. But the melting sea ice has also opened up some of the world’s last untapped mineral wealth, including huge reserves of oil and gas. Scientists believe the Arctic may hold up to 30% of the world’s reserves of natural gas.