Trump's climate stance casts shadow over Arctic meeting

Reuters News
|
Posted: May 11, 2017 1:24 AM

By Timothy Gardner

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hosted foreign ministers from Arctic nations at a meeting in Alaska on Thursday, where President Donald Trump's reluctance to fight climate change cast a shadow over talks.

The Arctic Council, which includes the United States, Russia, Canada and five other countries, meets every two years to tackle problems in the region, which is warming at a faster pace than any other part of the world.

Unlike former President Barack Obama, Trump has expressed doubts about whether human activity has a significant role in climate change, and is mulling whether to pull the United States out of the 2015 Paris Agreement to fight it.

Tillerson told the council that the Trump administration was reviewing how it will approach climate change but was not going to rush to make a decision. "We are appreciative that each of you has an important point of view," said Tillerson, the former chief executive of Exxon Mobil. "We are going to make the right decision for the United States," he said.

Trump is expected to decide whether Washington will leave the Paris pact, or stay in with reduced commitments, after a Group of Seven summit at the end of this month.

Canada and the Nordic countries have stressed the importance of staying in the Paris agreement.

Finland's Foreign Minister Timo Soini, whose country will chair the council for the next two years, praised U.S. leadership in the Arctic Council but added that the Paris pact is an important tool in fighting climate change.

The council, which operates on a consensus basis, signed an agreement late on Wednesday that only had a passing reference to Paris. It noted "entry into force" of the pact "and its implementation," and called for global action to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. It was unclear how much influence the Arctic agreement would influence Trump's decision.

Arctic warming is thawing permafrost and melting sea ice, causing damage to infrastructure but also opening up new oil reserves, shipping routes and access to fisheries - intensifying a decades-long race for Arctic resources.

Adding pressure on the Trump administration, scientists from the United States and other Arctic nations issued a report ahead of the meeting warning that warming in the region could lead to trillions of dollars worth of damage to buildings, roads and other infrastructure this century..

The council also signed an agreement on sharing science and data on the Arctic, an effort led by Russia and the United States, and addressed Arctic search and rescue and communications.

Trump's administration has already reversed Obama-era bans on offshore drilling in certain parts of the Arctic, a turn that could intensify competition for resources in the region with major oil producer Russia.

Russia has beefed up its military presence in the Arctic to levels not seen since the fall of the Soviet Union, as global interest in the region's oil, gas and rare earth metals heats up.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by James Dalgleish and Tom Brown)