US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on May 11 signed the Fairbanks Declaration, affirming the neeed for protection of the Arctic's climate. The move, at the 10th Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting held in the Alaska city, came after much speculation that the US would decline to sign, or even use the occasion to announce its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. The Fairbanks Declaration notes the importance of the Paris Agreement, while stating that "the Arctic is warming at more than twice the rate of the global average." The US getting on board was apparently the fruit of behind-the-scenes diplomatic pressure. "I think we were able to push the US back as much as possible," Rene Solderman, Finland's senior adviser on Arctic affairs, told reporters after the ministerial session.
Tillerson's remarks at Fairbanks, however, revealed caveats about the US commitment: "We are appreciative that each of you has an important point of view, and you should know that we are taking the time to understand your concerns. We're not going to rush to make a decision. We're going to work to make the right decision for the United States."
The Arctic Council's formal members are the United States, Canada, Russia, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. However, indigenous peoples of the Arctic were also on hand to address the proceedings. They spoke with a sense of urgency, emphasizing the dramatic retreat of Arctic sea ice opening a long-sought Northwest Passage, marine species loss due to ocean acidification, and related signs of an imminent global tipping point.
"All of these things are real and they are happening right now," said Patricia Lekanoff Gregory, speaking for the Aleut International Association. "We cannot let politics interfere with the actions that are needed now."
Bill Erasmus of the Arctic Athabaskan Council called climate change a threat to his people's culture and identity. "We are connected to the land. That is who we are," he said
Asa Larsson Blind of the Saami Council, representing indigenous people of northern Europe, added: "If our shared values are put at risk, the policies should change, not the values. The Saami Council urges everyone to put Mother Nature first." (Alaska Dispatch News, AP, Jurist, May 12; Eye on the Arctic, March 9)