With Seven to One Votes, We Hope the Earth Gets Well Soon, Greetings From the Arctic Council

Norway’s Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide during the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting. In the background is Sergey Lavrov, her Russian counterpart, and to the right, Finland’s Foreign Minister Timo Soini. (Photo: Arne O. Holm)

The Arctic Council has with seven to one votes decided to wish the Earth a speedy recovery. Or, as the bureaucratic political phrase in Rovniemi goes: A majority of us noted with concern the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming.

Tuesday’s Arctic Council summit ended, as indicated in yesterday’s op-ed, in a giant belly splash. And it hurts on Arctic winter skin when you land belly-down after falling from tall heights down into muddy waters that are hard to navigate.

A bit of applause, please!

Only Mike Pompeo, former CIA Director and currently the US Secretary of State, grinned from ear to ear when his Finnish colleague Timo Soini made a half-hearted attempt at making his Arctic colleagues finish the meeting with a round of applause.

- If not for anything else, then at least for the effort, he said with apology.

There was, in principle, not much to applaud when the Arctic Council for the first time ever failed its attempt to reach a joint declaration following its two-day summit in Rovaniemi, Finland.

- Madly, said one of the Council members when I asked him, as he was leaving the meeting, how disappointed he was.

From the beginning to the end, it was the USA pitted against the rest of the Arctic. There was not a climate threat in the world that could cajole the Americans into agreeing on a joint declaration from the Arctic Council, a declaration that also accepted the claim that there is a man-made climate crisis. And if there were to be a man-made climate crisis, it certainly was not created by the Americans.

Pulled hat down over the eyes

Perhaps by Russians and the Chinese, if one were inclined to interpret Mike Pompeo’s verbal thunderstorm prior to the official opening of the meeting. Americans are not into that sort of thing.

Rovaniemi is the official Santa Claus capital of the world. And when the foreign ministers from seven Arctic countries finally pulled their hats down well over their eyes, Mike Pompeo declared that it was “just wonderful to be on the Arctic Council”. He even brought a word from Donald Trump in his gift bag, though that did not seem to impress the other Council members much. In particular not the indigenous peoples’ organizations, who are also represented in the Arctic Council, yet this time around they had been excluded from the work on the joint declaration – which did not materialize in the end, after all.

The truth is that the seven other states had the choice between choosing to resign or ending up with a declaration that would ridicule all the vibrant climate work that is taking place, in particular in the scientific committees of the Arctic Council itself.

Impossible compromise

Norway’s Foreign Minister, Ine Eriksen Søreide, is both honest and analytical when explaining the defeat to High North News in this way:

- At one point it became clear that it would take a lot to arrive at a joint declaration. The Americans had made a clear choice about that. And we, the remaining seven countries, did not want a declaration with too weak language about climate issues. That is why we could not arrive at a compromise on that.

Thus, the Arctic Council ended up removing the entire post on the agenda of a joint declaration, and instead construed a ministerial statement. In addition, each Council member had up to six minutes speaking time in the end to explain how disappointed or happy they were about this new political feature.

Could have gone worse

Everyone but the USA spoke about the climate. Everyone spoke about how important the Arctic Council is for cooperation in the Arctic. Such as e.g. Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister. Clearly addressing the USA, he said that Russia can cooperate with everyone.

That is how the Arctic Council ended up as a copy of the old joke about the board of directors that wished its managing director, who was ill, all the best for his health with a three-to-two vote.

Though it could have gone worse. Even after Donald Trump decided to rule the world, it appears it could always go worse. That is why the Arctic Council can still have ambitions about being a forum for peace and cooperation.

- Though it requires no less hard work in the future, said Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide before returning to Norway.

The meeting in Rovaniemi goes to show that hard work will probably not be enough. It will also require the USA to have it their way.


This op-ed originally appeared in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.