US denies sinking Arctic Council declaration over climate change

Council is intergovernmental body

By Jennifer Hansler, CNN
Copyright 2019 CNN

U.N. report: One million of earth's eight million species are now threatened.

(CNN) - The US State Department on Tuesday denied that it had prevented the Arctic Council from signing a joint declaration after a meeting of the intergovernmental body ended with the release a short statement that did not include the phrase "climate change" instead of a formal declaration.

A senior State Department official contended that the only difference between the joint declaration and the statement was its length and claimed that "there was a consensus reached between all eight members of the Council."

"In fact, I think this was a very, very, positive outcome," they said.

Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini, the chair of the Arctic Council, said in a press conference following the ministerial in Rovaniemi, Finland, that "the declaration in a traditional way wasn't possible this time."

He declined to blame the United States for the lack of consensus, saying, "I don't name and blame anybody," but noted that "it is clear that the climate issues are different from the different viewpoints and from the different capitals."

"It is clear that those climate issues cannot be solved in this particular meeting," Soini said.

The statement signed by the foreign ministers of the eight member states -- Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States -- was only one page long and devoid of any mention of climate change. It focused on continued cooperation in the region and said that the council reaffirmed "its commitment to the well-being of the inhabitants of the Arctic, to sustainable development, and to the protection of the Arctic environment."

A senior State Department official said that "it's not accurate to say that the US wouldn't support a joint declaration."

"There were several different versions of the Declaration going around. The US was ready to sign. Secretary Pompeo made it very clear that there was a version of the declaration - all of these were being compared and in the middle of that at the ministers dinner, a conversation originated organically about doing a joint statement instead -- doing a simpler, positive, unified, collective message," they said.

They also said that "just because you don't have a certain phrase in it you can't infer that the United States has taken some sort of position (that) it's anti-environment."

However, climate change was a central focus of the ministerial meeting. Soini spoke extensively about the topic in a lengthy statement, noting that "a majority of us" had reached consensus on it.

"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," he said.

"Our meeting emphasized the need for national efforts and cooperation on pollution prevention, emission reductions and conservation of biodiversity, while a majority of us particularly emphasized the need to reduce greenhouse gas and black carbon emissions and to enhance work on climate change adaptation," he noted.

"A majority of us noted with concern the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degree C and its findings, and emphasized the importance of mitigation and adaptation actions to limit the impacts of climate change on Arctic communities as well as on Arctic cryosphere and ecosystems," he continued, referencing a UN report about catastrophic climate change. "The meeting welcomed the Arctic Climate Change Update 2019 report, and a majority of us underlined that changes in Arctic ecosystems have serious consequences for people who rely on and benefit from them, and called on the Arctic Council to continue monitoring and assessing changes taking place in the Arctic, in collaboration with relevant international organizations."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not mention climate change in his remarks at the ministerial or in his Arctic Policy speech on Monday. Pressed about the omission, the senior State Department official said emphasized that they were focused on "outcomes" not "gestures."

"Look, at the Arctic Council is not simply about the environment, the Arctic Council's about all kinds of things, meteorological cooperation, scientific cooperation. The secretary tried also to highlight some broader concerns about the region yesterday," they said.

Pompeo, who on Monday suggested there could be economic benefits to the rapidly changing Arctic, defended not using the phrase "climate change" in his remarks.

"My view on this and President Trump's view on this is what we should put all our emphasis on is outcomes," he said in an interview with a Finnish newspaper Monday.

The-CNN-Wire ™ & © 2019 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.