|REYKJAVIK - Eight Arctic countries will make scant promises to slow a rapid thaw of the region linked to global warming at a meeting in Iceland on Wednesday after US opposition to firmer action, delegates said.|
A draft policy document to be adopted by foreign ministers at the Arctic Council makes no common call, for instance, to cut emissions of greenhouse gases widely blamed for warming the Arctic twice as fast as the rest of the globe.
"The Arctic Council is not a forum for negotiating or making commitments" linked to global warming, Gunnar Palsson, the Icelandic chair of preparatory talks among senior officials, told on Tuesday.
Delegates said the United States, the only Arctic nation outside the U.N.'s Kyoto protocol on curbing heat-trapping emissions from fossil fuels, had opposed stronger recommendations favoured by some nations and indigenous groups.
Environmentalists said the meeting was a lost opportunity to slow damaging climate change by nations with territory stretching into the Arctic -- the United States, Russia, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland.
Palsson said ministers would set no new binding commitments or dates for action in a document that has taken months of negotiations for the Arctic Council, set up after the Cold War.
"They will address the need for the countries and the communities of the north to adapt to climate change, to mitigate the consequences of climate change, to engage in further research and monitoring and education," he said.
The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), by 250 scientists and issued two weeks ago, says warming could melt the polar ice in summer by 2100, ruin the livelihoods of indigenous peoples and drive species like polar bears to extinction.
The Arctic is thawing fast partly because dark oceans and ground, once exposed, soak up more heat than ice and snow.
LOST CHANCE - WWF
"The report gives such a strong warning of the changes to come that it deserves a very strong response," said Samantha Smith, director of the WWF environmental group's Arctic Programme.
"If there are no new commitments then they will miss a chance to show leadership," she said. Nations around the Arctic account for almost 40 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from cars, factories and power plants.
The United States is the top global polluter. Washington will be represented by Paula Dobriansky, Under Secretary, World Affairs, while other nations send government ministers.
Some delegates said agreement on common policy recommendations was a victory of sorts after months of wrangling. Indigenous groups had wanted more but had won a far wider global understanding of their plight.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen said the ACIA report could help a drive to persuade Washington to rejoin U.N. efforts on climate change.
"This study shows fairly dramatic consequences and will influence the debate," he told . "We should never give up hope that the United States will sign up for the Kyoto process for a more effective climate policy."
US President George W. Bush pulled out of Kyoto in 2001, arguing that it was too expensive and wrongly excluded developing nations from a first round of cuts in emissions.
Story by Alister Doyle
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE