A rational person looking at the collapse of the Arctic as we’ve known it for at least 115,000 years would see an ecological and humanitarian crisis. For the Trump administration, it’s just another business opportunity and chance to peddle climate denial.
According to multiple news outlets, the U.S. refused to sign a declaration acknowledging the threat of climate change to the Arctic as part of a meeting of the Arctic Council in Rovaniemi, Finland this week. It’s the first time since the council was created in 1996 that it hasn’t put out a declaration, according to Radio Free Europe.
The move comes after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered remarks to the press on Monday that included likening disappearing sea ice and shipping opportunities to be the “21st century Suez and Panama Canals.” This is all, to put it mildly, idiotic.
The Arctic Council is a coalition of nations with borders in the Arctic as well as indigenous groups who call the region home. It meets regularly to discuss issues of trade, security, and the environment in the region, and a different country sets the agenda for meetings as part of a rotating two-year chair role. Finland is wrapping its presidency, which focused “on mitigation of and adaptation to climate change and on sustainable development.” This year’s meeting was meant to put a bow on Finland’s leadership on the council before passing the baton to Iceland.
Climate change is reshaping the Arctic before our eyes. The region is warming at twice the rate as the rest of the world, and among the many consequences are increasingly large fires, melting permafrost and more landslides, disappearing sea ice, and ecological shifts in the ocean and on land. These consequences could well have knock-on consequences for the rest of the world as fires and permafrost melt release stored carbon back into the atmosphere, speeding along climate change.
But don’t tell that to Pompeo. As the U.S. representative to the Arctic Council, he’s responsible for setting the Trump administration’s agenda. That apparently includes not acknowledging the disastrous consequences unfolding in the region or planning for how to address them. The U.S. refused to sign a declaration that included climate change.
“The hang-up here right now is America making it hard to make a final agreement,” Sally Swetzof of the Aleut International Association, one of six organisations representing the Arctic’s indigenous peoples, told the media.
Instead, Pompeo praised the climate change-fuelled melting of Arctic sea ice as a way to access more oil and gas and increase shipping traffic through the already fragile region. Here’s what he said in his remarks at the meeting:
“The Arctic is at the forefront of opportunity and abundance. It houses 13 per cent of the world’s undiscovered oil, 30 per cent of its undiscovered gas, an abundance of uranium, rare earth minerals, gold, diamonds, and millions of square miles of untapped resources, fisheries galore. Its centrepiece, the Arctic Ocean, is rapidly taking on new significance. Offshore resources, which are helping their respective coastal states on the subject of renewed competition. Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new passageways and new opportunities for trade. 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.”
Pompeo also mocked the Paris Agreement and did the new Republican thing of hand-waving about “innovation” as a magical climate solution, while praising the U.S. for reducing its carbon emissions, largely by swapping coal for gas (which still emits carbon).
So in sum, climate change isn’t happening, but also it is and that’s actually good because it’s melting the Arctic, but also the U.S. has reduced emissions which is also good, is the very coherent negotiating position Pompeo is operating from. It’s similar to the addled thoughts of his boss.
The Trump administration has tried (and so far failed) to open the Arctic Ocean and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. And more broadly, Trump has announced he’s pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement that aims to get the world to limit carbon emissions and the resulting impacts of global warming. The strategy toward the Arctic seems to be to delay climate action and wring as much out of the region as possible.