Arctic Council countries fail to issue joint declaration due to disparities

The 11th Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting concluding in Rovaniemi, northern Finland, on Tuesday failed to formulate a customary joint declaration due to disparities.

It was the first time the meeting has not issued a declaration which would also act as a guideline for the next chairing country.

As the meeting convened on Tuesday morning, the presiding Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs Timo Soini entered a change in the agenda and deleted the item about a would-be joint declaration.

Instead of a joint declaration, the ministers signed on a joint statement, which reaffirmed the commitment to maintaining peace, stability and constructive cooperation in the Arctic, but did not mention the climate change issue.

The joint statement emphasized the role of the Arctic States in providing leadership in addressing new opportunities and challenges in the Arctic, working in close cooperation with the Permanent Participants.

The draft of the joint statement was ready only before the meeting started on Tuesday morning, Soini told reporters. The statement was signed by all the eight foreign ministers during the session.

Timo Koivurova, director of the Arctic Center at the University of Lapland, expressed his disappointment that the meeting concluded without a declaration.

He told national broadcaster Yle that the United States remained alone in the meeting in opposing the concept of climate change.

Harri Mikkola, a researcher at the Finnish Institute for International Affairs, told Helsingin Sanomat, a national newspaper, that the non-issuance of a declaration is an embarrassing end to the Finnish tenure as a chairman. “But the forces that lead to this are outside the hands of Finland,” he said.

Meanwhile, Soini issued a separate statement of the chair, which is not necessarily signed by the member states. It pointed out the internal disagreement on the climate change issues.

It noted that “a majority of us” regarded climate change as a fundamental challenge facing the Arctic and acknowledged the urgent need to take mitigation and adaptation actions.

It also said the majority welcomed the outcomes of the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP24) in Poland’s Katowice, “including the Paris agreement working program”. The United States withdrew from the Paris agreement one and a half years after it was passed by the international community in late 2015.

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a speech raising the issue of the Arctic Council’s purpose. He said the body has so far been focusing mainly on research, hinting a U.S. resolution to tap into the stage for political and military competition.

Pompeo did not mention directly the climate change in his speech, but spent time warning the Arctic nations of possible influence from China and Russia.

Mikkola said super power politics has not been discussed with that kind of weight in the Arctic Council.

In the statement by the chair, Soini noted that the meeting acknowledged the Arctic Council as the preeminent intergovernmental forum for the Arctic region.

Addressing a press conference together with Soini, Icelandic Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson said he would continue to keep the forum in low tension.

Finland’s rotating chairmanship of the council ends in June, and the chairmanship flag is passed at the Rovaniemi meeting from Finland to Iceland.