All Out to Humanize the Natural and Social Environment and
Make Canada a Zone for Peace

U.S. Must Be Held to Account for Its Disruption of Arctic Council Meeting

Published research shows that climate change is bringing about the end of the Arctic as we know it due to rising temperatures, melting ice, changing snow cover, and disappearing permafrost. Since 1971, eight trillion metric tonnes of land ice have been lost across the Arctic causing sea levels around the world to rise and producing enough mass to tip the axis of the earth. As one researcher says, the "Arctic biophysical system [is] now clearly trending away from its 20th century state and into an unprecedented state."

Despite the concerns of humankind about how to humanize the natural and social environment to take matters in hand, a day before the 11th Arctic Council Ministerial meeting, held this year in Rovaniemi, Finland on May 7, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a grandstanding 20-minute warmongering speech designed to ignore the problem of climate change and establish U.S. hegemony instead. Pompeo blasted China and Russia and what he characterized as their predatory intentions in the Arctic. He took the opportunity to unequivocally state that Canada's claim to the Northwest Passage is "illegitimate."

In his speech, Pompeo stated that the Arctic has become "an arena for power and competition" and is "rapidly taking on new strategic significance." Specifically, he noted how China is connecting Russia's Northern Sea Route to its "Maritime Silk Road." According to Pompeo, Beijing "could use its civilian research presence [...] to strengthen its military presence" and has a pattern of "aggressive behaviour elsewhere." Furthermore, he questioned Beijing's characterization of itself as "a near-Arctic state," arguing that "no third category exists and claiming otherwise entitles China to exactly nothing."

In regards to Russia, he criticized its claim to what he termed "the international waters of the Northern Sea Route" and the increase of its military presence in the region, charging that "Russian territorial ambitions can turn violent."

While Pompeo spoke enthusiastically about all the opportunities that the melting ice was opening up for shipping and resource extraction, he said nothing about the downside of a rapidly warming Arctic. For instance, he said nothing about the ramping up of global warming as a result of vast areas of the region formerly covered with ice and snow no longer reflecting the rays of the sun, but instead absorbing the solar radiation. Or that, as the permafrost melts, huge clouds of methane, a greenhouse gas, will be released into the atmosphere. Or that weather patterns will be profoundly affected in the rest of the world because of changes in the jet stream and ocean currents. Pompeo's comments coincided with the release of a UN report that estimates a million species on earth are at risk of extinction as a result, in part, of climate change.

Arctic Council meetings strive to be collegial. Held on a biennial basis, representatives from the eight Arctic countries and six Indigenous participant organizations deliberate on issues of sustainable development and environmental protection. The emphasis is on finding ways to work together on common issues.[1] It is considered poor form to bully pulpit prior to the convening of the meeting.

Arctic Council delegates were stunned by Pompeo's comments, news reports indicate. China has observer status at the Arctic Council and the head of the Chinese delegation, Gao Feng, commented that Pompeo's speech "left him floored." He further said that "the business of the Arctic Council is cooperation, environmental protection, friendly consultation and the sharing and exchange of views," which the U.S. Secretary of State's speech completely contradicted.

"China will not interfere in the affairs that purely belong to the Arctic countries," Gao said, adding that China has always adhered to the principle of openness, cooperation and mutual benefits while taking part in Arctic affairs.

"On the Arctic issue, China has always stressed the importance of scientific research, advocate environmental conservation, reasonable utilization, law-based governance and international cooperation," he said. "We are neither playing a geopolitical game nor making an exclusive small circle."

China is willing to work with all sides to contribute to the peace, tranquility and sustainable development in the Arctic, Gao said, adding that the criticisms made by the U.S. official "were totally incorrect" and "had ulterior motives."

Lassi Heininen, from Finland's University of Helsinki noted that typically, in the past, all the attending parties have worked to establish a good atmosphere because of common interests. He questioned why Pompeo had acted so aggressively against China and Russia, noting that both "the content and timing of the speech were unheard of at Arctic Council Ministerial meetings, where traditionally, no one state or minister tries to 'steal the show.'" Heininen added that he hoped that Pompeo's intervention did not "open a new kind of use of the Arctic Council, or misuse of it, for other purposes."

Michael Byers, an Arctic expert from the University of British Columbia, characterized Pompeo's remarks as "belligerent" and containing numerous false statements. For example, Pompeo complained about Chinese investments in Canadian Arctic infrastructure but such investment is actually non-existent.

One of the most alarming things that happened at the Arctic Council meeting was that, for the first time since it was formed in 1996, the Council was unable to come up with a joint declaration, the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper reported. The reason was that the U.S. side blocked any declaration that contained the words "climate change," despite opposition from participants in the meeting. Instead, due to a lack of consensus about what to say on climate change, Finland's Foreign Minister Timo Soini issued a detailed chair's statement -- the first such document in the Arctic Council's history, Nunatsiaq News reports. In it, Soini refers to "a majority of us" around the Arctic Council table, who supported clauses and issues involving climate change, such as the need to reduce greenhouse gas and black carbon emissions and to work on climate change adaptation.[2]

At the Arctic Council Ministerial meeting in 2017, the U.S. actually did sign onto a declaration that "clearly cited the effects of climate change in the Arctic and the need for action at all levels," one media report indicates. The U.S. government has given no explanation as to why Pompeo has directly contradicted this earlier agreement. However, at a press conference, Pompeo said the Trump administration shares "a deep commitment to environmental stewardship" but wouldn't sign on to collective goals like those on black carbon emissions, which, he claimed, accelerate warming in the Arctic. In that regard, the Secretary of State even appears to be out of sync with his own military which categorizes the changing weather and mounting temperatures as "a threat to national security." The fact is Pompeo waxed enthusiastically about the opportunity provided by the melting ice of the Arctic for shipping and resource extraction, but refused to acknowledge why the ice was melting or even utter the words "climate change" during the proceedings.

Indigenous representatives condemned the U.S. statements and actions, and especially the U.S. blocking of the final joint declaration over the issue of climate change. Dalee Sambo Dorough, international chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, called the U.S. actions a lack of leadership and a "moral failure" that represents a serious blow to "the future of what is supposed to be a consensus based body."

She further commented "Inuit are feeling the effects of climate change every day. While the U.S. government concerns itself with semantics, playing games with words, our people are witnessing the adverse impacts of climate change. What about us and our reality?"

Jimmy Stotts, President of Inuit Circumpolar Council-Alaska, clearly referring to the U.S., said it's time to stop "hiding from reality" and acknowledge that climate change is real, and that mankind is responsible for much of it. "We don't understand those who would argue otherwise," Stotts said. "We believe it's time to stop bickering to survive."

Stotts also suggested a greater focus by the Arctic Council on other key issues for Arctic Indigenous peoples, such as wildlife management, food security, infrastructure deficits, environmental issues and "the horror of suicide," Nunatsiaq News reported. He urged the Arctic Council to get back to its original idea, that of finding a balance between development and conservation, the news report said.

All Canada's Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland had to say to back up her claim that her government supports the Indigenous peoples of the Arctic was that Canada "plans to earmark more than $28 million to -- among other things -- support an Arctic Council sustainable development working group secretariat, to provide continued assistance for Indigenous groups so they can participate in the Arctic Council and to help UArctic, a university network with members around the circumpolar world." She referred to a recent federal government report on climate change that said temperatures in the Arctic could rise by 11 degrees Celsius, as "terrifying." Nothing was said to hold the U.S. to account for disrupting the ministerial meeting or its stand that Canada's claim to the Northwest Passage is "illegitimate."

The result was that the eight Arctic nations ended up signing a one-page ministerial statement which contained no mention of climate change and which the six Indigenous participant organizations refused to endorse. According to the document, which is on the Arctic Council's website, the ministers reaffirmed their "commitment to maintain peace, stability and constructive cooperation in the Arctic," emphasized "the role of Arctic states in providing leadership in addressing new opportunities and challenges in the Arctic, working in close cooperation with the Permanent Participants," recognized "the right of Arctic indigenous peoples and the unique role of Permanent Participants within the Arctic Council, as well as the commitment to consult and cooperate in good faith with Arctic indigenous peoples and support their meaningful engagement in Arctic Council activities." In addition, it welcomed "the ongoing strategic work" and instructed "the Senior Arctic Officials to continue strategic planning in order to provide guidance and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Arctic Council and to report to Ministers in 2021."

The peoples who live in the Arctic have the full support of the peoples of the countries which are within the Arctic Circle. There is widespread worldwide support for the stand of the peoples of the Arctic to make the Arctic a zone of peace and to deal with climate change and the other very serious issues facing them. The U.S. striving for hegemony over the Arctic, its warmongering and attacks against China and Russia and denial of Canadian claims over the Northwest Passage require opposition on the part of Canada if it is to even survive as a nation within the current dangerous international climate.[3]

The chairmanship of the Arctic Council now goes to Iceland for the next two years. Iceland last hosted the Arctic Council from 2002 to 2004.

"Active dialogue based on scientific research and dynamic collaboration between our countries and organizations is the best way forward for the Arctic Council," said Iceland's Minister of Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson before receiving the chairmanship gavel from Finland's Minister of Foreign Affairs Timo Soini. 


1. The Arctic Council was established in 1996 to promote cooperation between the Arctic countries, particularly in the environment protection area. Member states include Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States.

2. For the complete text of the statement made by Arctic Council Chair, Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini, click here.

3. See also these articles:

"Collusion and Contention Over the Arctic: Trudeau Government Moves to Militarize the Arctic," Peter Ewart, TML Weekly, April 6, 2019

"Northwest Passage Dispute," TML Weekly, April 6, 2019

"The Inuit and the Struggle for an Arctic Zone of Peace," TML Weekly, April 6, 2019

"The Arctic -- An Overview," TML Weekly, April 6, 2019

"Arctic Council and the Military Issue," TML Weekly, April 6, 2019

(With files from Arctic Council, Nunatsiaq News, Eye on the Arctic/Radio Canada International, CBC News, The Guardian, Helsingin Sanomat, U.S. Department of State, TASS, Xinhua)

This article was published in

Volume 49 Number 17 - May 11, 2019

Article Link:
All Out to Humanize the Natural and Social Environment and : U.S. Must Be Held to Account for Its Disruption of Arctic Council Meeting - Peter Ewart


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