How Trump removed climate change from arctic declaration
THE United States managed to remove references to the alarming rate at which Arctic sea ice is being lost from an international declaration, it has been revealed, in one of the first signs that the Trump administration will attempt to water down action on climate change by the rest of the world.
The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental body which represents eight countries with an interest in the region, including the US, Canada, Russia and the Scandinavian states.
Earlier this month it published the 'Fairbanks Declaration' which, to the surprise of some, did actually recognise that climate change was happening and twice as fast in the Arctic.
But a draft copy obtained by the Inside Climate News website shows the US suggested a number of last-minute changes which sought to play down global warming and how to reduce it.
While they were not all accepted in their entirety, the US largely got its way.
There is concern that Trump administration will withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change.
But it is also thought some US officials believe it is better to remain a signatory in order to have a seat at the table during further international negotiations - possibly to delay, water down or otherwise obstruct progress.
And so evidence of this tactic in the Arctic Council talks, as exposed by Inside Climate News, has caused some alarm.
The biggest US-proposed change saw the mass deletion of comments noting "with concern that the Arctic Ocean could be largely free of summer ice in two decades, that melt processes in the Arctic may have greater impact on global sea level rise than previously estimated, and that changes in the Arctic may be affecting weather in mid-latitudes".
This was replaced by a bland statement noting "with concern" the findings of an updated assessment of levels of snow, ice and permafrost in the region.
The draft document also talked about "noting the entry into force of the Paris Agreement on climate change for the parties to that Agreement and encouraging its implementation". But the final version simply noted the Paris Agreement's implementation.
A commitment to "work towards full implementation" of the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 was replaced with a line "reaffirming" the goals and "the need for their realisation by 2030".
The US also asked for "the need to improve the access of Arctic communities to clean, affordable, reliable and renewable energy sources" to be changed to remove the reference to renewables.
This was opposed by other delegates but the final version talks about improving access to "energy sources including renewable energy".
Another line saying pace of the ongoing warming process in the Arctic would "strongly depend" on greenhouse gas emissions was changed to remove the word "strongly". And the recognition that climate change was "by far the most serious threat to Arctic biodiversity" was altered to say it was "the most serious threat".
Jim Gamble, of the Aleut International Association, a permanent participant on the council representing indigenous Arctic people, said the vast majority of people reading the declaration would think it was "pretty good and we agree with that".
"There's an effort to move the climate agreement and sustainable development goals forward. But for those of us who are involved in the whole negotiation, we know at various times there was stronger language," he told Inside Climate.
Another council delegate said the US "just dropped a bomb on a multilateral forum at the last minute".
Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, expressed concerns at the US officials' tactics.
"Some of these changes are reminiscent of the way in which the last Republican administration sought to water down scientific conclusions about climate change," he told The Independent.
"They are a worrying sign that the US may not just be a laggard in taking domestic action on climate change, but may also seek to undermine concrete international action.
"We saw during the George W Bush presidency that the US attempt to obstruct progress on international climate action, but they were singled out and humiliated for it."
He said the position taken by the US might also provide cover to other countries, particularly significant fossil fuel producers like Saudi Arabia, to be "equally unreasonable".
Magnus Johannesson, director of the Arctic Council's secretariat, declined to comment on the negotiations leading up to the declaration when contacted by The Independent.
But he said he thought the final document was a "very ambitious declaration", noting its comments about reducing levels of black carbon and microplastics.
And he was prepared to say remarks similar to those deleted from the declaration at the request of the US.
"The warming of the Arctic is faster than in the rest of the world, the Arctic is warming at approximately two to three times faster than [elsewhere] so the melting of ice continues," Mr Johannesson said.