Obama, Arctic delegates call for “urgent action” on climate change

“Any so-called leader who does not take this issue seriously or treats it like a joke is not fit to lead”


Barack Obama at a gathering of Alaska native leaders held just after his jet touched down Aug. 31 at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska. (SCREEN GRAB FROM WHITE HOUSE VIDEO)

Barack Obama at a gathering of Alaska native leaders held just after his jet touched down Aug. 31 at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska. (SCREEN GRAB FROM WHITE HOUSE VIDEO)

After hearing United States President Barack Obama declare that climate change is the defining issue of the century, leaders from 19 nation states and the European Union — including Canada — said in a joint statement Aug. 31 that they’re committed to “urgent action” aimed at slowing the pace of global warming in the Arctic.

Delegates at the Anchorage, Alaska conference, entitled Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience Conference, or “GLACIER” for short, spent two days discussing the impact of climate change in the Arctic and how to respond to it.

Though the meeting included representatives from the eight Arctic Council member states, including Canada, it was not an Arctic Council gathering.

The main purpose of the conference, hosted by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, was to bring developing nations like China and India within a consensus aimed at producing a global agreement this December at COP21, an international climate change conference scheduled to take place in Paris.

“We affirm our strong determination to work together and with others to achieve a successful, ambitious outcome at the international climate negotiations in December in Paris this year,” the joint statement said.

In addition to Arctic states, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Netherlands, Poland, Singapore, Spain, the United Kingdom and the EU signed on to the statement.

They also endorsed the scientific consensus on climate change and its impact on the Arctic.

“We take seriously warnings by scientists: temperatures in the Arctic are increasing at more than twice the average global rate,” their statement said.

And they cited numerous scientific findings from the past three decades: reduction of summer sea ice extent by 40 per cent since 1979, the melting of glaciers and the Greenland ice sheet, and the threats to coastal communities in Alaska from erosion and rising sea levels.

“Thawing permafrost is triggering the collapse of roads, bridges and other infrastructure, and coastal erosion is requiring entire communities to consider relocation.”

To that end, they called on researchers to find ways to help Arctic communities adapt to the effects of climate change.

They also praised the agreement on black carbon and methane that Arctic Council ministers adopted at their Iqaluit gathering this past April.

Because of the federal election campaign, Canada sent no political leaders to the gathering and was represented instead by Daniel Jean, the deputy minister of foreign affairs.

Nunatsiaq News sought comment from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to clarify Canada’s position on the joint statement.

DFAIT, however, did not respond. They referred the request to the federal Department of the Environment, who provided a brief emailed response:

“Like the U.S., the Government of Canada is committed to successful negotiations of an effective climate change agreement in Paris this December, which includes a commitment to mitigation action by all the world’s major emitters of greenhouse gases. In May 2015, the Government of Canada announced plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030,” the emailed statement said.

In contrast, Obama closed the GLACIER conference on the evening of Aug. 31 with a speech that used the language of the apocalypse to describe the threat that climate change poses.

“It is happening here. It is happening now. Climate change is already disrupting our agriculture and ecosystems, our water and food supplies, our energy, our infrastructure, human health, human safety. Now. Today. And climate change is a trend that affects all trends — economic trends, security trends. Everything will be impacted,” Obama said.

He scoffed at climate change deniers, saying the reality of climate change is undeniable.

“The time to plead ignorance is surely past. Those who want to ignore the science, they are increasingly alone. They’re on their own shrinking island,” Obama said.

And those who deny climate change “will condemn our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair,” he said.

That came with a stern warning to political leaders who ignore climate change.

“Any so-called leader who does not take this issue seriously or treats it like a joke — is not fit to lead,” he said.

Obama also bragged that America will reach the carbon emission target he set six years ago: 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020.

And he played up a new emissions reduction target that he announced earlier this year after a joint meeting with China: a reduction of carbon emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025.

Prior to those remarks, Obama also spoke at a roundtable discussion with Alaskan indigenous representatives at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage, saying he’s met with more Native American leaders than any other president before him.

“Since I took office, I’ve been committed to sustaining a government-to-government relationship between the United States and our tribal nations,” he said.

When Obama arrived in Anchorage, protestors decried a recent decision by the president to allow Royal Dutch Shell to drill two exploratory wells in the Chukchi Sea, of the northwest coast of Alaska.

But an Iñupiat Eskimo development firm, the Arctic Slope Regional Corp., urged Obama to take a balanced approach to resource extraction.

“The industry has operated safely in our backyard for over four decades producing more than 15 billion barrels of oil from the North Slope in that time. With those barrels come jobs, security and opportunity,” the Arctic Slope Corp., which has about 12,000 Iñupiat Eskimo shareholders, said in an open letter to Obama.

On Sept. 2, Obama was to visit the Yup’ik community of Dillingham and the Iñupiat community of Kotzebue.

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