The Heat Is Online

Bush Works to Block Action on Melting Arctic

U.S. Wants No Warming Proposal

Administration Aims to Prevent Arctic Council Suggestions

The Washington Post, Nov. 4, 2004

The Bush administration has been working for months to keep an upcoming eight-nation report from endorsing broad policies aimed at curbing global warming, according to domestic and foreign participants, despite the group's conclusion that Arctic latitudes are facing historic increases in temperature, glacial melting and abrupt weather changes.

State Department representatives have argued that the group, which has spent four years examining Arctic climate fluctuations, lacks the evidence to prepare detailed policy proposals. But several participants in the negotiations, all of whom requested anonymity for fear of derailing the Nov. 24 report, said officials from the eight nations and six indigenous tribes involved in the effort had ample science on which to draft policy.

The recommendations are based on a study, which was leaked last week, that concludes the Arctic is warming much faster than other areas of the world and that much of this change is linked to human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment -- produced by a council of nations with Arctic territory that includes the United States, Canada, Russia and several Nordic countries -- reflects the work of more than 300 scientists.

Several individuals close to the negotiations said the Bush administration -- which opposes mandatory cuts in carbon emissions on the grounds that they will cost American jobs -- had repeatedly resisted even mild language that would endorse the report's scientific findings or call for mandatory curbs on greenhouse gas emissions.

An early draft of the policy statement -- which is set to be issued two weeks after the 144-page scientific overview is released Monday -- included a paragraph saying that to achieve the goals set under a 1992 international climate change treaty known as the Rio Accord, the "Arctic Council urges the member states to individually and when appropriate, jointly, adopt climate change strategies across relevant sectors. These strategies should aim at the reduction of the emission of greenhouse gases."

The administration has pushed to drop that section. As one senior State Department official who asked not to be identified put it, "We're bound by the administration's position. We're not going to make global climate policy at the Arctic Council."

The World Wildlife Fund's Arctic Program director Samantha Smith said the council's scientific conclusions, which said temperature increases in some parts of the Arctic increased tenfold compared with the last century's worldwide average rise of 1 degree Fahrenheit, justified immediate action.

"This is the first full-scale assessment of climate change in the Arctic and it shows dramatic changes in the region, with worse to come if we don't cut emissions," said Smith, an observer at the negotiations. "We challenge the Arctic governments to come up with a real response to the science, before the foreign ministers meet in Iceland in November."

Administration officials said they are hesitant to endorse policy recommendations before examining the full 1,200-page scientific report on the Arctic.

Paula Dobriansky, the undersecretary of state for global affairs who will be leading the U.S. delegation to Reykjavik, Iceland, later this month, said that "the report has not been finalized or released to governments."

U.S. officials have received regular briefings on the full report, according to Arctic Council officials, and have submitted comprehensive comments on it over the past 18 months.

Some council participants have begun to grumble about U.S. resistance to articulating a global climate policy. One European negotiator said the administration is trying to "sidetrack the whole process so it is not confronted with the question, 'Do you believe in climate change, or don't you?' " He added that while the other member nations will try to press the United States on the matter in the final talks, "I cannot see any solution to this unless [the administration] clearly changes its position."

And Sheila Watt-Cloutier, head of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference and an Arctic Council representative, wrote council chairman Gunnar Palsson of Iceland in August that a recent draft of the report "tries and often fails to be all things to all people and in so doing shies away from policy recommendations, the one thing it was designed to do."

Some Senate Republicans, including Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (Ariz.) and fellow committee member Olympia J. Snowe (Maine), are also lobbying the administration to back a strong policy document. In late September they and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) wrote to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell saying, "In order to fulfill our responsibilities to the American people, it is critical that we, as policymakers, have access to the latest scientific information and associated policy recommendations."

Dobriansky said the administration supports publication of the policy report this month. "Allegations that the United States is seeking to suppress the policy recommendations are simply not true," she said.

Palsson said in an interview that the public controversy over the U.S. climate position was complicating his efforts to achieve a consensus among top ministers, who are supposed to sign off on the policy findings within a matter of weeks.

"This is such a highly sensitive political issue," he said. "Ministers have to be able to sort these things out behind closed doors."


Arctic melt accelerates

Reuters News Service, Nov. 4, 2004

OSLO - A thaw of the Arctic icecap is accelerating because of global warming but nations in the region including the United States are deadlocked about how to stop it.

Due for publication on November 8, an eight-nation report compiled by 250 scientists says the Arctic is warming almost twice as fast as the rest of the planet due to a buildup of heat-trapping gases and the trend is set to continue.

"We are taking a risk with the global climate," said Paal Prestrud, vice-chair of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) report, which says emissions of gases from cars, factories and power plants are mostly to blame.

The Arctic icecap has shrunk by 15-20 percent in the past 30 years and the contraction is likely to accelerate, Prestrud said. The Arctic Ocean could be almost ice-free in summer by the end of the century.

Inuit hunters are falling through ice, permafrost is thawing and destabilising foundations of buildings and vital winter roads while the habitat of creatures from polar bears to seals is literally melting away.

The report says that the thaw will have some positive side-effects. Oil and gas deposits will be easier to reach, more farming may be possible and short-cut trans-Arctic shipping lanes may open.

NATIONS SPLIT

Diplomats said governments in nations around the Arctic rim - the United States, Russia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland - disagree about what to do, with the United States most opposed to any drastic action.

Arctic nations are meant to agree policy recommendations based on the report at a meeting of foreign ministers in Iceland on November 24.

"U.S. negotiators say 'we already have a policy on global warming - we can't have a new one just for the Arctic'," one European diplomat said. Government negotiators will try to break deadlock with a new round of talks in mid-November.

President George W. Bush pulled out of the U.N.'s Kyoto protocol on global warming in 2001, arguing it was too expensive and wrongly excluded developing nations.

The other Arctic nations, most recently Russia, have agreed to Kyoto's target of cutting developed nations' emissions of carbon dioxide by five percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12.

The WWF environmental group this week accused the eight nations, which account for 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, of hypocrisy in sponsoring the Arctic report while failing to crack down.

"The big melt has begun," Jennifer Morgan, director of the WWF's global climate change campaign, said in a statement. She said industrialised nations were using the Arctic as a guinea pig in an uncontrolled experiment on climate change.

Scientists have agreed to discuss parts of the report ahead of full publication - Reuters published main conclusions in September. Some European governments originally wanted the report issued before Tuesday's U.S. presidential election.

The report projects that temperatures in the Arctic will rise by 4 to 7 degrees Celsius (8 to 14 degrees Fahrenheit) in the next 100 years. If temperatures then stayed stable, the Greenland icecap would melt altogether in 1,000 years and raise global sea levels by about seven metres.

The thaw of the icecap floating on the Arctic Ocean does not affect sea levels, in the same way that a full glass of water with an ice cube jutting above the brim does not spill when the ice melts since ice takes up more space than water.