Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will meet Thursday with foreign ministers from nations with territory in the Arctic, including Russia, Canada, and five other nations, to foster cooperation in the region. The meeting is likely to focus on discussions of climate change, on which Trump’s administration still has yet to lay out a clear policy. The United States will pass rotating chairmanship of the intergovernmental organization on to Finland, after holding the position for two years. Tillerson will hold one on one meetings with ministers, including a highly anticipated meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergey V. Lavrov. That meeting will be held in Washington on Wednesday before the two officials travel together to Alaska to hold the rest of the meeting.
Contoversy at the meeting could arise in relation to the traditional closing statement, in terms of how much it may focus on climate change issues, such as the 2015 Paris agreement. The statement is approved by consensus, and negotiations on the statement have already been ongoing for weeks. The US, and most other nations agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. However, Trump’s administration has yet to say whether it will remain in the agreement, or back out, as the president promised during his campaign.
The effects of climate change in the Arctic region have accelerated dramatically in recent years. Temperatures there have risen twice as fast as in the rest of the world, leading to record lows for sea ice and thawing permafrost. A recent study, published this week, suggests that the Alaskan tundra is releasing more carbon dioxide than it stores. In turn, this process accelerates the warming effect in the atmosphere.
With these changes comes new economic opportunities, such a shipping routes, but also new security concerns. Russia has announced plans to ship natural gas from an Arctic port in Siberia, using icebreaking ships. The nation also recently finished construction of a military base on Franz Josef Land in the Barents sea.
These concerns have further increased calls from scientists and policy experts from the Trump administration to abide by the Paris agreement.
According to former Clinton State Department official Rafe Pomerance, who also chairs advocacy group Arctic 21:
“This ministerial is convening as the Arctic is unraveling at an accelerating rate. Secretary of State Tillerson should take the message from the Arctic to the White House to persuade the administration of the urgency of policy to slow the warming of the Arctic.”