U.S. Criticized over Arctic Climate Deal

November 2004: A meeting on global warming in the Arctic has ended without agreement on the need for firm action as a result of U.S. skepticism, according to critics. The Council, which is made up of eight countries that border the region, as well as six indigenous groups, met in Reykjavik, Iceland, from 22-24 November to discuss the findings of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. Four years in the making, the study involved hundreds of scientists. It concluded that the region has already been seriously affected by global warming, with worsening impacts likely in future.

In spite of growing evidence of the need for action, however, the Council was unable to agree on any specific recommendations for action. The U.S. delegation reportedly vetoed such language, resulting in a declaration that recognized people's concerns for the Arctic, but fell short of specific goals, targets or actions. Environmentalists have described the meeting as a “missed opportunity.”

The Council meeting was preceded by a growing war of words in the U.S. media between climate skeptics and those favoring strong action. Just days before the meeting was due to start, Alaska's congressional representatives cast doubt on the view that climate change was being caused by humans. “I don't believe it is our fault. That's an opinion, it's as sound as any scientist's,” said Republican Congressman Don Young. Meanwhile, climate skeptic Dennis Avery, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, recently dismissed fears over climate change as “unnecessary fretting,” and Patrick Michaels of the University of Virginia disputed claims that human activities are causing rapid warming in the Arctic, arguing that the region was hotter only a few thousand years ago, and that such fluctuations are natural.

On the other side of the debate, Republican Senator John McCain, has been pressing for urgent action, and is sponsoring a bill to cut emissions in the U.S. In a recent meeting of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Robert Corell, who chaired the Arctic study, observed that warming is happening more rapidly there than in other parts of the world. He also highlighted glacial melting, shorter and warmer winters, and more rainfall, and warned of bigger and more rapid changes in future.

Links to further information

The Mercury News, 25 November 2004

Arctic Climate Impact Assessment report, November 2004

Pittsburgh Live column, 30 November 2004

MSNBC report, November 2004

CNS News, 19 November 2004

ENS report, 17 November 2004

Chicago Sun-Times article, 14 November 2004