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 May 09, 2019
U.S. pressure bars Arctic climate change declaration

 The U.S. would not join an agreement on challenges faced in the Arctic due to disputes over climate change wording, according to diplomats.

The move could hurt the chances of cooperation between the eight nations bordering the Arctic that met in Finland on Tuesday.

Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the U.S. -- members of the Arctic Council -- were supposed to work on a two-year agenda on the difficulties faced in the Arctic, which include global warming and the sustainable development of natural resources.

It was the first time since the council's creation in 1996 that the countries did not reach a joint declaration laying out their Arctic priorities.

Ministers from the countries reiterated their commitment to facing the challenges in a statement, but participants said that the U.S. held back other nations from agreeing to do more, Reuters reported.

Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini said Tuesday that there would be no joint declaration but told reporters he didn't want to "name and blame anybody" and that the outcome was "good enough" for the council.

"A majority of us regarded climate change as a fundamental challenge facing the Arctic and acknowledged the urgent need to take mitigation and adaptation actions and to strengthen resilience," Soini said in a statement.

A senior State Department official denied that the U.S. was dragging its feet, saying that several different versions of the declaration were circulated that the U.S. was willing to sign.

At the summit, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the council that the Trump administration shares its "deep commitment to environmental stewardship," but he noted that collective goals aren't always the solution.

"Collective goals, even when well-intentioned, are not always the answer," Pompeo said. "They are rendered meaningless, even counterproductive, as soon as one nation fails to comply."

Pompeo also painted melting sea ice in the Arctic as an economic opportunity for the shipping industry.

"Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new passageways and new opportunities for trade," Pompeo said. "This could potentially slash the time it takes to travel between Asia and the West by as much as 20 days."

Recent research has sounded the alarm on the state of the Arctic. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned that the area was reaching "uncharted territory" in terms of warming air and ocean temperatures in its 2018 Arctic Report Card. NASA researchers last month said research could be underestimating the rise in Arctic temperatures.