The Arctic Council, a high-level intergovernmental forum comprised of the eight countries with territory in the Arctic Circle, ended its ministerial on May 14, 2019, without a joint declaration spelling out its priorities. This was because the United States objected to any mention of climate change or the Paris Climate Agreement. President Trump intends to remove the U.S. from the agreement, although he cannot legally do so until November 4, 2020, one day after the U.S. Presidential election. This is the first time since the Arctic Council was formed in 1996 that the body could not agree on a joint declaration.
This is especially notable because climate change continues to have a disproportional impact on the Arctic when compared to the rest of the world. Arctic temperatures are increasing at twice the rate of the rest of the planet, causing serious risk to the region’s ecosystems and infrastructure.
While U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned that “the Trump Administration shares your deep commitment to environmental stewardship,” his real focus seemed to be elsewhere. He warned Russia and China against “aggressive” behavior in the region. This was a surprise to all since the Arctic Council’s mandate explicitly excludes military security. He also emphasized the economic opportunities afforded by melting sea ice, saying that “Arctic sea lanes could become the 21st century’s Suez and Panama canals.”
In lieu of a formal declaration, the Council released a brief statement reaffirming the commitment of the member states “to maintain peace, stability and constructive cooperation in the Arctic.” The Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs, who currently chairs the council, released an accompanying statement that, without naming the U.S. as the dissenting party, noted that “a majority of [the Arctic Council states] particularly emphasized the need to reduce greenhouse gas and black carbon emissions and to enhance work on climate change adaptation.”