Wednesday

29th Jan 2020

Key Arctic ministerial hits US climate rock

  • Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov (left) with his US counterpart Mike Pompeo at the Artic meeting in Finland, which ended with US delegates unable to agree with the other seven Arctic states on wording and ambitions on climate change (Photo: Jouni Porsanger / Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland)

For the first time ever a meeting of the foreign ministers of the eight Arctic states, including US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and Russia's Sergei Lavrov, has ended without a joint declaration on common ambitions and direction for the work of the Arctic Council for the coming years.

The meeting ended here in Finland's Arctic region Tuesday (7 May) at lunchtime.

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  • Instead, ministers sign a so-called joint ministerial statement to preserve a small measure of unity between the eight governments, including the US, Russia (Lavrov, above), Canada, Norway, Iceland and three EU member states: Sweden, Denmark and Finland (Photo: Jouni Porsanger / Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland)

After about two months of intense negotiations including last-minute efforts, US delegates were unable to agree with delegates from the other seven Arctic states on wording and ambitions on climate change.

The presence of the ministers themselves did not clear the obstacles.

Finnish foreign minister Timo Soini opened the event on Tuesday morning by cancelling the planned signing of a joint declaration.

Instead, the ministers sign a so-called joint ministerial statement to preserve a small measure of unity between the eight governments, including the US, Russia, Canada, Norway, Iceland and three EU member states: Sweden, Denmark and Finland.

A representatives of one of the Arctic indigenous peoples, Bill Erasmus, head of the Arctic Athabaskan Council, in his formal speech expressed the frustration of many delegates.

"We have some real concerns, climate change is real and our elders tell us we are in real in trouble," he said.

Sweden's foreign minister Margot Walstrom, a former EU commissioner, regretted that no formal consensus on a declaration was reached. She stressed that climate change is "happening as we speak".

"Our planet has done all she can do to keep Greenland and the permafrost in Siberia intact", she said. "Making observations is not the same as taking action," Wahlstrom said.

No mention of climate change

Pompeo, in his speech, confirmed the US's continued commitment to Arctic cooperation.

He stressed that the US is committed to cooperation on "environmental stewardship" in the Arctic, but he did not use the term "climate change" - choosing instead to warn against increased Chinese presence in the Arctic.

The EU's Arctic ambassador, Michele Coninsx from the EU's external action service, told EUobserver that the lack of a joint statement addressing climate change would not lead to any change in European approaches to Arctic cooperation.

"It will have no impact on our efforts, because we will continue to be a strong leader on climate change. Our engagement will continue in cooperation with everybody involved", she said.

Norway's foreign minister, Ine Soreide Eriksen, stressed the importance of climate change but did not mention the lack of consensus.

Instead she stressed how the eight Arctic governments still agree on new approaches to marine conservation and other joint priorities.

She interpreted the presence of all eight Arctic foreign ministers as a strong sign of continued support for Arctic Cooperation.

It is only the second time in the 23 years of the Arctic Council that all eight foreign ministers attend an Arctic Council meeting.

The majority view was expressed by a formal statement by the Finnish chairman of the meeting, foreign minister Soini: "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, and welcomed the outcomes of the [UN climate talks] in Katowice, including the Paris agreement work programme," his statement read.

The weaker joint ministerial statement, only one page, signed by all ministers including US secretary of state Pompeo did not mention climate change.

Instead it recognised "the diversity of the societies, cultures and economies in the Arctic, reaffirming our commitment to the well-being of the inhabitants of the Arctic, to sustainable development and to the protection of the Arctic environment".

"It is a short statement, but it is an important statement, because it signals the will to work together," ambassador Coninsx said.

The statement alongside other formal instruments will ensure that the work of the Arctic Council, its scientific working groups and other subsidiaries can continue to work, even if no comprehensive political declaration was able to produce consensus between the governments.

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