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Arctic Nations Meet in Alaska Under Climate Change Concern

  • Greenpeace activists campaign for the Arctic in Helsinki, Finland, on May 6, 2017.

    Greenpeace activists campaign for the Arctic in Helsinki, Finland, on May 6, 2017. | Photo: Reuters

Published 11 May 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump’s climate policy may have devastating future impacts on the sensitive region. 

Officers from eight nations with Arctic territory met Thursday in Alaska for the biennial Arctic Council meeting, amid concerns over U.S President Donald Trump’s climate policy. 

RELATED: Protesters Send 'Wake Up Call' to Trump to Stay in Paris Climate Agreement

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in the meeting the Trump administration is currently reviewing important policies, including the approaches to address climate change. 

“We're 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,” Tillerson said. “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 is an advisory body that promotes cooperation among member nations and Indigenous groups. Its focus is sustainable development and environmental protection of the Arctic, but does not make policy or allocate resources.

Foreign ministers of Russia, Canada, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Sweden also took part in the meeting to tackle problems in the region. 

In a ceremony Thursday morning, the U.S. formally handed over the rotating chairmanship of the council to Finland.

"The United States has been privileged to lead the Arctic Council at a time when the Arctic region has been facing unprecedented change and challenges,” Tillerson said. 

During the two-year chairmanship, the Obama administration had emphasized stewardship of the Arctic Ocean, climate change and scientific research. It also improved living conditions and economies for those living in the Arctic.

President Obama also became the first sitting president to travel above the Arctic Circle when he went to the largely Inupiat community of Kotzebue.

“We are unsure what the Trump administration thinks about the Arctic region in general, about the Arctic Council in particular and about its role,” said Victoria Herrmann, president of The Arctic Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based group, according to the Associated Press. 

Unlike his predecessor, President Trump had vowed to unravel previous administration's environmental regulations and claimed that climate change was a hoax invented by the Chinese. 

He is expected to decide whether the U.S. will leave the 2015 Paris Agreement, or stay in with reduced commitments, after a Group of Seven summit at the end of this month.

Trump also had pledged to boost the U.S. oil and gas drilling and coal mining industries with his “America First” energy policy. Last month, Trump signed a new executive order aimed at reducing restrictions on offshore oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and the Atlantic. 

Protesters gathered in a city park nearby late Wednesday as Tillerson having a meeting with a congressional delegation as well as Arctic representatives from Alaska’s indigenous people.

“My message for Rex Tillerson is: Alaska shouldn’t be for sale for what’s in our earth,” Hannah Hill, 36, who works at a Fairbanks soup kitchen, said to the Associated Press. “This place is beautiful, and this place is delicate, and what already is happening on in the Arctic will affect the rest of the Earth. And that is science.”

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