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Arctic nations agree on plan

Thu., Nov. 25, 2004

WASHINGTON – Eight nations with Arctic territory agreed Wednesday to fight glacial melting and other effects of climate change in the region, though they declined to endorse any new steps to counter global warming out of deference to the Bush administration.

The Arctic Council – which includes the U.S., Russia, Canada and several Nordic countries – issued a seven-page policy report asking countries to adopt “effective measures” to combat climate change – without elaborating on what that would entail.

The group’s cautious statement – which did not call for mandatory curbs on greenhouse gas emissions linked to warming but noted “with concern” that the Arctic is facing historic temperature increases and glacial melting – reflected the difficulties in forging an international consensus on climate change.

Representatives from eight countries and several indigenous tribes worked behind the scenes over the past week at a conference in Reykjavik, Iceland to draft a response to the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment released two weeks ago.

In that document, more than 300 scientists concluded after four years of study that melting sea ice, abrupt weather changes and rising temperatures in northern latitudes have far outpaced climate change in other regions over the past few decades. Several nations pushed for a more aggressive policy statement backing limits on carbon dioxide emissions, said participants in the talks who asked not to be identified for fear of angering the United States, but Bush administration officials resisted that effort.

One negotiator said the final product “while not good, could have been much worse,” adding that the administration recognizes “there’s a global concern about climate change.”

American negotiators agreed to wording stating that climate changes in the Arctic have global implications and that countries should take the assessment’s findings into account when drafting climate policy. Both provisions had been sought by European nations.

Paula Dobriansky, the undersecretary of state for global affairs who led the American delegation, said the United States is investing in renewable energy as well as technologies to store carbon dioxide underground to address climate change.

“We base our policies on science and we will take the findings (of the report) into account,” she said.

Environmentalists said they were disappointed with the council’s policy recommendations.

“Climate change is a fact in Arctic, it has implications for the globe and it deserves a strong response,” said Samantha Smith, who directs the World Wildlife Program’s Arctic program and served as a council observer. “What we got instead was basically no response on cutting emissions.”

Some Europeans said they still hoped to use the report and the scientific assessment to push for stricter climate policies in other international negotiations, such as next month’s United Nations talks in Buenos Aires.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Arctic nations had no choice but to act soon. “We all need to intensify efforts against pollution in the Arctic,” he said.

Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said it is “irresponsible in the extreme for the United States not to commit to an aggressive campaign to reduce greenhouse gas emissions” in light of the recent scientific findings and the prospect that American companies could reap profits by selling energy efficient products in overseas markets.


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