Speaking to reporters Thursday in the White House’s Grand Foyer, President Obama said the residents of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Norway share Americans’ commitment to addressing climate change.
“We believe that we have a moral obligation — to this and future generations — to confront the reality of climate change and to protect our planet, including our beautiful Arctic,” he said.
Finnish President Sauli Niinistö noted that the Arctic Council, which the U.S. currently chairs, can serve as an important forum to shape policies for the region.
“Mr. President, we are grateful for the leadership the United States has showed in combatting the most existential threat in the world — that is climate change — and focusing attention to the Arctic, where we are practically neighbors,” he said. “The Arctic Council can be used also as an instrument of confidence-building.”
Carter Roberts, president and chief executive of the World Wildlife Fund, said in an email that the communique “includes all the key pieces from conserving the Arctic, to aviation, to energy, to sustainable development, to the role of nature in fighting climate change.”
“The Nordic countries share with us an exquisite place — one that suffers from, and contributes to, climate change unlike any other,” Roberts said. “These bilateral and regional agreements will be fundamental to making forward progress.”
The Arctic warms between two and three times faster than regions in more southern latitudes, and it is experiencing record sea ice and glacier loss that could alter sea levels and weather patterns across the globe for centuries to come.
While it remains unclear what sort of restrictions these new standards could prompt —the United States still allows oil and gas drilling in the Arctic, as do Russia and Norway, though many firms are pulling out due to recent market and regulatory pressures — the announcement highlights Obama’s eagerness to advance his climate goals during his final months in office. Every bilateral meeting he has had since a major global climate accord was reached in Paris in December has involved a discussion of climate policy.
“It is quite significant that you now have seven out of eight Arctic nations, representing more than half the Arctic’s territorial waters, basically conditioning future economic activity on world-class environmental standards and international climate goals,” said a senior administration official, who asked for anonymity because the announcement was not yet public. “That’s reflective of both the possibility of Paris, and the president’s leadership on climate.”
While Russia has not made a similar pledge, the official said “that absolutely will be the next part of the conversation” about how to conduct Arctic policy.
Rafe Pomerance, who heads a coalition of nongovernmental organizations researching Arctic climate science and policy known as Arctic 21, said the announcement represents a new recognition of the urgency to shore up the Arctic “I don’t think this was there, a year or two ago,” he said, adding policymakers are now asking, “What is the Arctic we have to have, how can we maintain its functions?”
The Nordic Summit agreement will include other climate-related steps, including a memorandum of understanding between the United States and Denmark to harmonize their regulations for offshore wind energy projects in order to make it easier for manufacturers to produce for both markets, and a pledge by Norway and the United States to do more to reduce deforestation.
Under the global climate accord struck late last year, more than 190 nations pledged to limit warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit compared to pre-industrial levels. As part of Friday’s announcement, Iceland will say that it will sign the accord this year, and other nations will make commitments aimed at reaching the global goal.
So far, the accord has been signed by 35 countries, whose greenhouse gas emissions account for 49 percent of global output; to come into force, a total of 55 countries accounting for at least 55 percent of the world’s carbon emissions must join. Russia generates roughly 7 percent of global emissions; Japan and India each account for about 4 percent.
Roberts said the world’s leaders realize “we need to get there soon.”
Norway’s ambassador to the United States Kare Aas said in a statement that his country’s decision to ratify the Paris agreement in June as “one of the first countries to do so,” along with an effort to join with the United States and Canada to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gas methane, “is critical in order to reach the two degree target.”