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Arctic Council: US goes cold on climate change agreement

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By Katy Dartford  with Reuters
Arctic Council: US goes cold on climate change agreement

A failure to reach a consensus on combating climate change has jeopardised cooperation between eight Arctic states.

The refusal by the United States to sign an agreement on challenges in the polar region has left the Arctic Council unable to agree on a final declaration.

Diplomats say the United States balked at signing as it disagreed with wording in the declaration stating that climate change was a serious threat to the Arctic.

At the start of the council's 11th ministerial meeting in Rovaniemi in northern Finland, Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini said the final joint declaration was "off the table" and would be replaced by ministerial statements.

He provided no explanation.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, however, was very vocal in his remarks to the council.

"This is America’s moment to stand up as an Arctic nation and for the Arctic’s future. Because far from the barren backcountry that many thought it to be, the Arctic is at the forefront of opportunity and abundance. It houses 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil, 30 percent of its undiscovered gas, and an abundance of uranium, rare earth minerals, gold, diamonds, and millions of square miles of untapped resources. Fisheries galore," he said.

These remarks come hard on the heels of a new UN report showing that nature is declining at a rapid rate, with roughly 1 million animal and plant species now threatened by extinction

Moreover, temperatures in the Arctic are rising at twice the rate of the rest of the globe, and melting ice has opened vast untapped oil and gas reserves to potential commercial exploitation.

The meeting of nations bordering the Arctic was supposed to frame a two-year agenda to balance the challenges of climate change with the sustainable development of mineral wealth.

It was the first time a declaration had been cancelled since the Arctic Council was formed in 1996.

The Arctic Council consists of the United States, Canada, Russia, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Iceland.

Agreements between countries are non-binding.

WATCH: Iceland's Ambassador Einar Gunnarsson, the incoming Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials of the Arctic Council, give his reaction to the US stance: