The Arctic Council – comprised of Canada, the US, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden – meets every two years to discuss environmental issues facing Arctic nations. As the Arctic is warming at the fastest pace in the world, native people living along coasts and rivers are being forced to evacuate as sea levels rise. Warming in this region, however, is also opening up new oil reserves, shipping routes and access to fisheries.
Foreign ministers of the eight countries in the council signed an agreement referencing the Paris Agreement, noting the “entry into force” of the pact. The signatories of the major pact committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions such that global temperatures do not rise above 2°C.
Tillerson came round to signing the Arctic Council agreement after hours of debate, in which the other foreign ministers emphasised the economic benefits of taking action on climate change, according to Danish foreign minister Anders Samuelson. Local tribal leader, Victor Joseph, chairman of the Tanana chief conference, also pressed Tillerson to sign the agreement.
President Trump’s moves to dilute US climate policies have made the country an anomaly among Arctic Council member states. A source close to Tillerson’s department said that they believed there would be “a significant US effort to redline or even remove entirely the Paris and climate language” from the agreement.
It remains unclear to what extent the Arctic agreement will influence President Trump’s decision on the Paris Agreement. He is expected to decide whether the US will leave the 2015 pact or remain in with reduced commitments, after the Group of Seven summit at the end of May.
Unlike previous US President Barack Obama, President Trump has publicly expressed doubts that human activity has had a major role in climate change. He has already demonstrated a dismissive attitude towards environmental concerns by reversing a ban on offshore drilling in parts of the Arctic introduced by the Obama administration.
Tillerson, a former ExxonMobil CEO, supports staying in the agreement.
“We are appreciative that each of you has an important point of view,” said Tillerson, while addressing the Arctic Council. “We are going to make the right decision for the United States.”