As The Arctic Melts, The Trump Administration Dangerously Downplays Climate Change
Last week, the United States signed a declaration to protect the Arctic and expand scientific co-operation within the eight-nation Arctic Council. The Fairbanks Declaration references the Paris climate agreement and [reiterates] the need for global action to reduce both long-lived greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants.”
International reaction to the signing was cautiously optimistic. The Guardian ran a headline that read, “US signs treaty to protect Arctic, giving some hope for Paris agreement.” Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, Chrystia Freeland, praised her US counterpart, Rex Tillerson, for his work on the document.
This guarded optimism and praise seemed understandable. In the US, a “United Republican Government” — united mostly by their climate science denial and their subservience to fossil fuel corporations — is in power. The President once called climate change a Chinese “hoax.” The Vice-President called it a “myth.” They campaigned against the Paris agreement. The administration's Environmental Protection Agency chief is a man who’s spent much of his career trying to destroy environmental protections. And, of course, Tillerson, the administration's top diplomat, spent his adult life at ExxonMobil, the world’s biggest Big Oil company and an infamous backer of anti-climate science propaganda.
So, yeah, the collective sigh of relief when this oil-soaked administration signed a document that acknowledged the Paris agreement, admitted greenhouse gas emissions are a problem, and paid lip service to the need for climate action was understandable.
But Sabrina Shankman of InsideClimate News has since reported that the United States demanded last-minute changes to the declaration that weakened the language on climate change and downplayed the need for climate action. Member states on the Arctic Council and indigenous groups successfully fought back against some of the Trump-Pence administration’s demands but most were adopted.
The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum used to facilitate cooperation between the eight countries with territory in the Arctic. Chairmanship of the Council rotates among the member states every two years.
The United States has occupied the Chairmanship for the last two years. The Fairbanks Declaration reviews the US Chairmanship and sets the priorities for the new Finland-headed Chairmanship. The Obama administration wrote the declaration’s first draft. It was further developed through Arctic Council negotiations in March and April.
On May 9, negotiators from each Arctic state and the six indigenous groups that are permanent participants on the Arctic Council met for what was supposed to be a one hour meeting to finalize grammar and work out other superficial changes. Instead, the United States submitted a rewrite that removed words and entire passages. All the changes obfuscate the seriousness of climate change.
The biggest change completely removed a summary of “Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic,” a Council report that indicates climate change’s impact on the Arctic could be even worse than previously thought. The declaration originally noted “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 deleted and replaced with a line that notes “with concern its findings.”
US also wanted to remove the word “renewable” from a line about improving access to energy sources. This change was pushed back against but the compromise text still weakened the original meaning. Instead of emphasizing the need to improve renewable energy access, it calls for improving energy access “including renewable energy.”
The declaration is a non-binding document but, as Sabrina Shankman rightly points out, the US moves to “ weaken the document can be seen as a test case for what we can expect at larger, more consequential meetings of international organizations dealing with global warming issues and policy as President Donald Trump rolls back U.S. climate policies and backslides on international commitments.”