US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signed a treaty Friday agreeing to foster scientific cooperation in the Arctic, and offering some acknowledgement of the 2015 Paris climate change agreement. President Trump promised to remove the US from the agreement during his campaign, but since then his administration has been divided on how to handle the matter. The signing of the document followed Tillerson’s meeting with the eight-nation Arctic council.
Tillerson signed the declaration, “noting the entry into force of the Paris agreement on climate change and its implementation, and reiterating the need for global action to reduce both long-lived greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants.”
The nations also agreed that “activities taking place outside the Arctic region, including activities occurring in Arctic States, are the main contributors to climate change effects and pollution in the Arctic, and underlining the need for action at all levels.”
The secretary of state told the council “we’re not going to rush” to decide whether to stay in the Paris agreement, but that the administration would make “the right decision for the United States.”
Speaking at the end of the conference, Tillerson said “We are appreciative that each of you has an important point of view, and you should know that we are taking the time to understand your concerns. The Arctic Council will continue to be an important platform as we deliberate on these issues.”
There were concerns ahead of the conference that the nations would be unable agree to a joint declaration, given the Trump administration’s hesitance to address climate change. Temperatures in the Arctic are rising twice as fast as in the rest of the world, creating uncertainty around a key issue for the council. Concerns also arose over geopolitical tensions between Russia and the US. The melting of permafrost and the ice caps could open up conflicts between the US, Russia, and China over oil and gas resources in the area.
However, the eight nations of the council used their opening remarks to reaffirm their intention to focus on environmental issues and sustainable development in the Arctic, not letting wider geopolitical tensions get in the way of their mission.
According to Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freeland:
“The Arctic Council is so valuable to all of us, and very much for Canada, it’s where we, the Arctic nations, can set aside issues outside the Arctic and appreciate that we have shared stewardship of this region,” said Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freeland. The US-Russia initiative will make it easier to move equipment, samples and data across borders in the north and facilitate scientific collaboration and sharing.”