There may be hope that the Trump administration is taking climate change more seriously than expected.
On Friday, Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, signed a commitment to curb greenhouse gas emissions and to extend scientific cooperation in the Arctic region.
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.
Foreign ministers of the eight countries signed an agreement “noting the entry into force of the Paris agreement on climate change and its implementation, and reiterating the need for global action to reduce both long-lived greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants.”
The signatories of the agreement committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions such that global temperatures do not rise above 2°C.
Temperatures in the Arctic are rising faster than anywhere else in the world, leading to fears of a wider knock-on effect around the globe. Native people living along coasts and rivers are being forced to evacuate as sea levels rise.
President Trump has described climate change as a “hoax” and his moves to dilute US climate policies have made the US an anomaly amongst the Arctic Council. The Trump administration has been debating whether to pull out of the Paris treaty, signed in 2015 under the Obama administration, or to lower the level of US commitments.
Tillerson sought to reassure the Arctic Council, saying, “we’re not going to rush” to make a decision, but that the American government would make “the right decision for the United States”.
The Secretary of State, despite being a former ExxonMobil CEO, supports staying in the agreement.
The Council acknowledged that activities that take place outside the Arctic, including within the Arctic Council countries themselves, are the main contributors to climate change and require the need for action.
Chrystia Freeland, the Canadian foreign minister said “The Arctic Council is so valuable to all of us, and very much for Canada, because it’s where we, the Arctic nations, can set aside issues outside the Arctic and appreciate that we have shared stewardship of this region.”
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 pact or remain in with reduced commitments, after the Group of Seven summit at the end of May.