Secretary of State John F. Kerry says “climate change is not a distant threat for our children and their children to worry about It is happening now.”
Speaking at a U.S.-sponsored conference on global leadership in the Arctic on Monday, Mr. Kerry pointed to the increasing speed at which the region’s glaciers are melting and asserted that “unless the global community comes together to address this challenge, the dramatic climate impacts that we’re seeing in this part of the world will be a harbinger for every part of the world.”
The event, which Obama administration officials have dubbed the “Glacier” conference, has been held over the past two days in Anchorage, Alaska, where high-level diplomats from several nations, including France, Germany, Japan, Britain and others, signed a joint declaration on Monday calling for increased international action to confront climate change.
China, Russia and India — each of whom rank close to the U.S. as nations producing the highest levels of emissions that scientists say cause global warming — were not signatories to the declaration.
But the nations who did sign expressed “determination to work together” toward an “ambitious outcome” at an upcoming round of international climate negotiations slated to take place in Paris at the end of this year.
The declaration stresses the need for marked reductions in carbon soot emissions worldwide, and calls specifically on oil and gas firms to take more aggressive steps toward limiting methane emissions.
“Actions to reduce methane — a powerful short-lived greenhouse gas — can slow Arctic warming in the near to medium term,” reads the joint-declaration, which asserts “We take seriously warnings by scientists: temperatures in the Arctic are increasing at more than twice the average global rate.”
“Arctic sea ice decline has been faster during the past ten years than in the previous 20 years, with summer sea ice extent reduced by 40% since 1979,” the declaration reads. “Loss of ice from Arctic glaciers and ice sheets contributes to rising sea levels worldwide, which put coastal communities everywhere at increased risk of coastal erosion and persistent flooding. And emerging science suggests that rapid warming of the Arctic may disrupt weather patterns across the globe.”
In his remarks, Mr. Kerry pushed back at climate change skeptics — a group that includes nearly every Republican presidential candidate.
“Some people just want to write it off as a natural change,” Mr. Kerry said, adding that “anybody running for any high office in any nation in the word should come to Alaska or to any other place where it is happening and inform themselves about this.”
At the State Department, officials downplayed the notion that key powers with direct access to the Arctic were ignoring the Obama administration’s attempt to draw attention to climate change as focal point for international coordination in the region.
Russia, specifically, made headlines last month with fresh territorial claims in the Arctic. In addition to dispatching two mini submarines that deposited a Russian flag on the Arctic seabed, Moscow has resubmitted a previously disputed claim to the United Nations for sovereignty over some 750,000 square miles of arctic shelf.
In early-August, Reuters described the move as driven by Russian desires to control a swath of the mineral-rich region, where other nations, including the U.S., Canada and Denmark also have rival territorial interests.
Despite the Russian flag-planting theatrics, State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said Monday that U.S. officials are generally satisfied that Moscow is making its territorial claims in line with protocols agreed to by the so-called “Arctic Council,” which consists of eight nations, including the U.S., Russia, Canada, Finland and others.
Pressed on the extent to which U.S. officials are concerned that Moscow is ignoring the Obama administration’s focus on environmental issues, Mr. Toner said only that “it’s incumbent on all of the Arctic nations, if you will, to raise public awareness about the environment in the Arctic.”
“I’m not trying to excuse anybody or give anybody an A-plus on this,” he said. “I think every country needs to do more.”