Arctic nations offer little guidance on how to fight global warming
An Arctic Council meeting wrapped up in Reykjavik on Wednesday with high-level politicians from the eight member countries pledging to reduce global warming but offering no specific recommendations on how to do so.
"We have been able to find common ground ... but we have not come here to recommend or dictate the actions of individual governments," Icelandic Environmental Minister Sigridur Anna Thordardottir told reporters.
In their joint declaration, representatives for the member states stated simply that "climate change and other stressors present a range of challenges for Arctic residents, including indigenous peoples, as well as risks to Arctic species and ecosystems", adding that findings in a recent Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) report "will help inform governments as they implement and consider future policies on global climate change".
The issue of global warming is controversial, especially in the United States, whose administration has opposed mandatory curbs on the emission of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, which researchers agree is one of the main causes of global warming.
Officials in Reykjavik admitted that US opposition had made it impossible to reach a consensus on action.
This "was the best possible declaration that could be adopted here today," Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Toumioja told reporters.
US Under Secretary for Global Affairs Paula J. Dobriansky however tried to downplay the differences between Washington on the one side and the European nations and Canada on the other.
"I think we have a common goal and objectives. We have different approaches in reaching those goals and objectives and I think today's meeting reflects that kind of emphasis on consensus," Dobriansky told AFP.
Environmentalists meanwhile immediately criticized the Council for having issued an anemic declaration.
"The arctic nations had an opportunity to show real leadership in response to ACIA and support bigger cuts in CO2 emissions. They missed this opportunity," Samantha Smith, the head of the World Wildlife FoundationArctic division, said in a statement.
Arctic Council researchers issued a scientific report earlier this month warning the Arctic is warming at double the rate as the rest of the planet, and that within the next 100 years the ice cover there will completely disappear in summer and species living in the ice field, like polar bears, will be threatened.
Even with only "moderate" future emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, average temperatures in the region could rise by between four and seven degrees Celsius (seven to 13 degrees Fahrenheit) by the year 2100, according to the ACIA report, published by an international team of 300 researchers at the beginning of November.
While seven of the eight Arctic Council member states -- Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russian and Sweden -- have embraced the 1997 United Nations Kyoto climate change treaty, Washington has refused to ratify it.
The treaty aims for an approximately five percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 levels in the period 2008 to 2012.
"We challenge them (the Arctic Council member states) to take steps beyond these to save the Arctic by committing to much deeper cuts at the next round of climate negotiations in December in Buenos Aires," head of the WWF climate change division Jennifer Morgan said in a statement.
"It is time for the United States to take serious action on climate change," she added.
Asked whether the United States accepted the findings of the ACIA study, Dobriansky told AFP that "we will take into account the document ... in our policy deliberations".
Reactions to Wednesday's declaration from Arctic indigenous peoples organizations, which contributed to the ACIA report, were mixed.
"It is a modest breakthrough that the United States at least recognizes the need to come to grips with greenhouse gases," Sheila Watt-Cloutier of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference said in a statement.
"It is more than we expected, but less than we had hoped for," she added.
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