Canada affirms Arctic co-operation with U.S. despite climate impasse

Canada is holding out hope it can collaborate with the Trump administration on Arctic challenges even though the United States has blocked the Arctic Council from issuing a unanimous declaration acknowledging climate change.

Freeland, Pompeo at odds over issue of Northwest Passage sovereignty

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland reaffirmed Canada's sovereignty over the Northwest Passage during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (Mandel Ngan/Reuters)

Canada is holding out hope it can collaborate with the Trump administration on Arctic challenges even though the United States has blocked the Arctic Council from issuing a unanimous declaration acknowledging climate change.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined to utter the words "climate change" throughout the eight-country summit of Arctic nations that wrapped Tuesday in Finland, including in a meeting with Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.

The American opposition to acting on climate change was not all-encompassing, though, because the Trump administration views melting Arctic ice to be an economic opportunity. Pompeo said it will open new sea lanes and trade routes, slashing ships' travel time between Europe and Asia.

The Northwest Passage was also a point of contention at the summit. In a speech on Monday, Pompeo called Canada's claim over the Northwest Passage "illegitimate," language that was criticized as not reflecting the 1988 Arctic Co-operation Agreement that allows Canada and the U.S. to continue to agree to disagree on the issue.

Pompeo acknowledged melting ice, but didn't use the phrase 'climate change' in a speech outlining the Trump administration's Arctic policy. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

The agreement allows the U.S. to designate the passage as an international waterway while allowing Canada to say that it is a part of Canadian sovereign territory.

"Canada is very clear about the Northwest Passage being Canadian. There is both a very strong historic and geographic connection with Canada," Freeland said Tuesday during a meeting with Pompeo. She went on to classify the collaboration between Canada and the U.S. as "very fruitful."

"And actually, as we see the conditions of the Northwest Passage changing with our changing climate, I think that's actually grounds for closer collaboration with the United States."

Pompeo replied by saying the U.S. is more concerned about Russia and China in the Arctic than ownership of the Northwest Passage.

"The challenges in the Arctic aren't between the United States and Canada, let me assure you," he said. "There are others that threaten to use it in ways that are not consistent with the rule of law."

Climate change language thwarts joint declaration

Freeland said recent scientific studies that indicate temperatures could increase in Canada's Arctic by 11 C are "terrifying" and "we have a responsibility to be part of a collective solution."

She also noted "unpredictable weather patterns caused by climate change" are causing security threats and navigational issues.

Foreign Minister Timo Soini of Finland, which ended its two-year chairmanship of the council on Tuesday, said no joint declaration was possible because the U.S. would not agree to language about climate change.

Bill Erasmus, chairman of the Arctic Athabaskan Council, a Canada-based group of Indigenous people, expressed disappointment that a joint declaration had not been reached.

"We have some real concerns," he said. "We recognize that climate change is real. Climate change is man-made, and our elders tell us that we are clearly in trouble."

Official U.S. statements and documents prepared for the meeting did not refer to "climate change," and their scientific focus was limited to reductions in U.S. carbon emissions that predate the administration and research.

Pompeo sees 'new opportunities' in melting ice

In a roughly 20-minute speech outlining the Trump administration's Arctic policy on Monday, Pompeo acknowledged melting ice, but didn't use the phrase climate change. In fact, his address was largely an admonition against increasing Russian and Chinese activity in the Arctic. Nor did he indicate that the administration places any priority on easing the melting that scientists say is already causing oceans to rise.

"Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new naval passageways and new opportunities for trade, potentially slashing the time it takes for ships to travel between Asia and the West by 20 days," he said in the speech, which was met with polite but muted applause.

"Arctic sea lanes could become the 21st-century's Suez and Panama Canals."

Pompeo said reductions in sea ice could lead to this century's 'Suez and Panama Canals.' (David Goldman/Associated Press)

Asked directly about climate change and the Arctic in an interview with a Finnish newspaper, Pompeo declined the opportunity to mention the phrase and downplayed the importance of the Paris climate accord from which U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew.

"My view on this and President Trump's view on this is what we should put all our emphasis on I outcomes," he said. "We can call it whatever we like, but I shared some of the data in the speech. The United States is kicking it when it comes to getting its CO2 down. I mean, compare it to China, compare it to Russia, compare it, frankly, to many European nations, each of whom signed the Paris agreement."

According to the statistics he presented, U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions fell by 14 per cent between 2005 and 2017, while global energy-related CO2 emissions increased more than 20 per cent. In terms of black carbon, which is a particular threat to the Arctic, U.S. emissions were 16 per cent below 2013 levels in 2016 and are projected to nearly halve by 2025, he said.

"I'm sure it was a good party," Pompeo said of the negotiations in Paris. "I'm sure it felt good to sign the agreement. But at the end of the day, what matters to human health, what matters to the citizens of the world, is that we actually have an impact on improving health. And our technology, our innovation, the R&D we put in in the United States, that's what will drive better climatic outcomes, that's what will create cleaner air and safer drinking water, and that's what I hope the whole world will focus on."

With files from Reuters


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