At a meeting of Foreign Ministers from all the Arctic Nations held Monday and Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to sign a previously negotiated declaration of support by the nations for their joint strategy and cooperation plan in this key region because it involved working to address climate change impacts in the region.  In a speech to the intergovernmental organization called the Arctic Council, Pompeo instead took an aggressive stance on the race for Arctic resources stating that “[t]his is America’s moment to stand up as an Arctic nation….[t]he region has become an arena of global power and competition,” according to The New York Times.

CNN late yesterday reported that the Administration denied that the U.S.refused to sign the previously agreed statement, arguing that the meeting was a big success and pointing to the one-page joint statement that eventually all the nations agreed to, which did not mention climate change.

  • Pompeo was there apparently there to make a point about China’s Arctic ambitions, which he sees as an unwelcome force in the Arctic — the Chinese are active in the Arctic Council as observers.
  • The Times reported that “Gao Feng, the head of the Chinese delegation to the Council, said Mr. Pompeo’s speech signaled the start of ‘a new bad era.’  ‘I’m not happy,’ he said immediately after the speech. ‘It’s a country that stepped out of the Paris Agreement and then they’re talking about protecting the environment of the Arctic.’

According to the Associated Press, Pompeo did briefly discuss conservation during the meeting, saying that “the Trump Administration shares your deep commitment to environmental stewardship,” and that protecting the Arctic is a “shared responsibility.”  The Times reported Pompeo then went on to tout the region as a land of “opportunity and abundance,”  and cited its untapped reserves of oil, gas, uranium, gold, fish, and rare earth minerals, as well as new shipping routes now available due to sea ice melting.

Why This Matters: What a difference a year makes.  Last year, through U.S. leadership, the countries of the Arctic Council signed a voluntary agreement to forego commercial fishing and conduct joint research in international waters in the Arctic Ocean for 16 years in order to protect the marine environment there while it is undergoing rapid change and is still little understood scientifically.  The whole purpose of the Arctic Council is cooperation, with a particular focus on science, conservation, sustainable development and support for indigenous communities. So much for that. Mike Lee of The Associated Press who was covering the meeting put it this way — “For the Trump administration, disappearing sea ice in the world’s “high north” appears to be first and foremost an economic opportunity to exploit rather than a crisis to mitigate.”  Apparently, although the Administration does not acknowledge the unprecedented warming in the Arctic, it is more than willing to exploit it.  Scientists after the remarks noted that “last month a new record Arctic low sea ice extent was reached. And as this sea ice loss continues, the effects will extend far beyond the Arctic.”  

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