New chair of Arctic council calls for Paris treaty on global warming to be respected amid fears of commitment downgrade
Finland, the new chair of the Arctic council, has appealed to climate change scientists to fight the threat of the US and Russia tearing up commitments to combat global warming.
The Nordic country takes up the two-year chairmanship of the body, increasingly a forum where arguments about climate change play out, at a ministerial meeting on Thursday in Fairbanks, Alaska, where the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, will represent the Trump administration.
The meeting is due to set targets to reduce black carbon in the Arctic, a pollutant that traps atmospheric heat, but comes amid fears the US is poised to downgrade its commitments made at the 2015 Paris conference on climate change.
Harri Mäki-Reinikka, the Finnish ambassador for northern policies, called for the Paris treaty to be respected.
“We hope there will be no deals over the heads of others – these are very global issues. Arctic conditions are changing. If the temperatures are two degrees higher globally that can be four degrees higher, or even six degrees in the Arctic,” he said.
“What is even more worrying is that ice and snow are melting faster than we estimated, and that will change the composition of the waters and even the sea level might be rising. If we have two countries, Russia and the US, not sharing the view that climate change is happening or is manmade or how much it is manmade, it is very difficult to proceed.”
Mäki-Reinikka said “a month ago Putin said climate change is not man made” but recent reports of bubbles of methane gas forming in Siberia, potentially putting more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, could mean “a vicious circle of climate change and global warming will be faster, and the Paris climate change agreements will need to be stronger”.
Russian scientists have mapped out 7,000 dirt-covered mounds in Siberia, which have mysteriously taken shape in the otherwise flat tundra landscape. Some are slowly filling up with pressurised carbon dioxide and methane, with some on the verge of exploding.
Efforts are under way by some British climate experts to persuade senior Russian scientists to think again about climate change.
A debate is still raging within the US administration about whether Donald Trump should stick to his campaign commitment to abandon the Paris treaty.
Another member of the Arctic council, Norway, has also been putting pressure on Trump with its environment minister, Vidar Helgesen, this week saying that climate change was now seen by military planners as a serious international security challenge.
There are eight member states on the council and about $400bn (£310bn) is being invested in the region, with the majority of that sum from Russia.