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Arctic Council fails to agree on declaration as US holds out on climate change

Sources involved in the negotiations told Yle News the failure was due to US refusal to agree to a common statement on fighting climate change in the Arctic. 

Ministers and representatives at Tuesday's Arctic Council meeting in Rovaniemi, from left: Yury Khatanzeyskiy, Vice President Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North; Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide, Norwegian Foreign Minister; Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister; Margot Wallström, Swedish Foreign Minister; Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, James Stotts, President, Inuit Circumpolar Council; Timo Soini; Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Canada; Edward Alexander, Gwich'in Council International.
Ministers and representatives at Tuesday's Arctic Council meeting in Rovaniemi. Image: Yle News / Tom Bateman

The Arctic Council ministerial meeting in Rovaniemi is set to end in disappointment after ministers failed to reach an agreement on the wording of a final joint declaration for the first time in the organisation’s 23-year history.

Sources taking part in the negotiations told Yle News they understood that the United States was the only Arctic Council member not to agree to language on fighting climate change in the draft ministerial declaration.

Finland’s caretaker Foreign Minister Timo Soini opened the day’s talks saying that under Finland’s leadership over the last two years, Arctic Council countries had “been able to sail together,” despite what he called “windy conditions.”

The run-up to this year’s meeting in Rovaniemi was characterised by reports of conflict among the eight Arctic Council countries - Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States - with US newspaper The Washington Post reporting that US diplomats had attempted to remove any mention of climate change from the draft Rovaniemi declaration.

No mention of climate change in joint statement

Reacting to the news, Gosia Smieszek from the University of Lapland’s Arctic Centre told Yle News: “It’s not a conflict, it’s a fundamental disagreement over climate change and the fact that the current US administration denies it, which is something that other Arctic states cannot accept.”

Soini’s official statement from the ministerial meeting noted that “a majority of [Arctic Council members] regarded climate change as a fundamental challenge facing the Arctic, and acknowledged the urgent need to take mitigation and adaptation actions.”

A joint ministerial statement released in place of a declaration and signed by all eight of the participating foreign ministers did not explicitly mention climate change.

In his statement to the Council meeting, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “the Trump administration shares your deep commitment to environmental stewardship.”

“Collective goals, even when well-intentioned, are not always the answer. They are rendered meaningless, even counterproductive, as soon as one nation fails to comply,” he continued.

Arctic people express concern

Representatives of indigenous groups at the Arctic Council expressed alarm at the meeting’s failure to result in a final declaration.

Sámi council president Åsa Larsson Blind told delegates, “by mentioning [climate change] by its real name, we can fight it, and reduce its impact.”

“We need to express our deepest concern about the development of a commitment for this ministerial,” she said.

James Stotts, president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, said “We believe it’s time to stop bickering over whether there is climate change or not and start implementing strategies and actions to survive climate change.”

“We believe it’s time to stop hiding from reality,” he concluded.

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