Representatives of the members of the Arctic Council agreed on a draft statement covering the May 17 meeting of Council. Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland noted the significance of the United States agreeing to the Council’s statement that supported the Paris agreement on climate change.
After the draft text was circulated to the US Government, Rex Tillerson, the head of the US delegation, requested changes to lessen the impact of the Council Statement. Words that could be interpreted to mean that the US was a party to the Paris agreement (and encouraged its implementation) were amended by dropping any reference to “parties to that Agreement”. The text acceptable to the US read:
” Noting the entry into force of the Paris Agreement on climate change and its implementation . . “
This minor change of wording leaves open whether the US is a party to the Paris Agreement.
There were other changes in the wording requested by Tillerson as the draft language created an uncertainty as to what the US had committed to by accepting the statement. The members of the Council prudently accepted these minor changes. While the Arctic Council has an important mandate, only COP 23 is the vehicle for keeping the US in the Paris Agreement.
A decision by the US to withdraw from the Paris Agreement is serious, but not the end of the diplomatic efforts to reach a binding international agreement. Already Canada, China and the European Union have agreed that the Paris momentum must continue. To quote from Xie Zhenhua, the Chinese envoy to COP:
However, some commentators suggest the COP process would be better off without the US if it intends to remain at the table but is not serious about reducing its domestic emissions.