MONTREAL — Canada is disappointed the United States has blocked the Arctic Council from issuing a unanimous declaration acknowledging climate change but has no choice but to keep working with a key ally, says Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined to utter the words "climate change" throughout the eight-country summit of Arctic nations that wrapped Tuesday in Finland, including in a meeting with Freeland.
Foreign Minister Timo Soini of Finland, which ended its two-year chairmanship of the council on Tuesday, said no joint declaration was possible because the U.S. would not agree to language about climate change.
"I think Canada feels, as do many members of the Arctic Council, that it's a disappointment we weren't able to reach a shared communique that we all agreed with," Freeland told reporters Tuesday from Latvia, where she was transiting to Ukraine as part of a whirlwind European trip.
"We were certainly not prepared to have an agreed communique that didn't forthrightly and clearly speak about climate change."
The failure to agree on a shared statement also drew condemnation from the Inuit Circumpolar Council, which represents people in Canada, Greenland, Alaska and Russia.
"While the U.S. government concerns itself with semantics, playing games with words, our people are witnessing the adverse impacts of climate change. What about us and our reality?" said the group's international chair, Dalee Sambo Dorough, an Inuk from Alaska.
Freeland said Canada recognizes "with sadness" that the U.S. has decided to withdraw from the Paris climate-change accord.
"We continue to express our disappointment with that decision. Having said that, we have to move on ... with all the other countries of the world that want to co-operate with us on climate change and of course we need to move on with our relationship with the United States, our neighbour and our ally."
The American opposition to acting on climate change was not total, though, because the Trump administration views melting Arctic ice to be an economic opportunity.
Pompeo says it will open new sea lanes and trade routes, slashing ships' travel time between Europe and Asia.
In a speech in Finland on Monday, Pompeo called Canada's claim over the Northwest Passage "illegitimate," language that was criticized as not reflecting the 1988 Arctic Co-operation Agreement that allows Canada and the U.S. to continue to agree to disagree on the issue.
The agreement allows the U.S. to designate the passage as an international waterway while allowing Canada to say that it is a part of Canadian sovereign territory.
Freeland tried to strike a conciliatory note on the issue while not giving an inch on Canada's position.
"Canada is very clear about the Northwest Passage being Canadian. There is both a very strong historic and geographic connection with Canada. Having said that, we collaborate closely with all of the members of the Arctic Council."
The U.S. is more concerned about Russia and China in the Arctic than ownership of the Northwest Passage, said Pompeo.
"The challenges in the Arctic aren't between the United States and Canada, let me assure you," he said. "There are others that threaten to use it in ways that are not consistent with the rule of law."
Pompeo's views on the economic benefits of climate change met with a muted response during his Monday speech in the northern Finnish Arctic city of Rovaniemi.
"Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new naval passageways and new opportunities for trade, potentially slashing the time it takes for ships to travel between Asia and the West by 20 days," Pompeo said, as Freeland and the foreign ministers of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden looked on.
"Arctic sea lanes could become the 21st century's Suez and Panama canals."
The summit wrapped with a brief joint statement that reaffirmed the council's "commitment to maintain peace, stability and constructive co-operation in the Arctic."
—With files from the Associated Press