Can the aims of the ambitious Paris Agreement be met in Arctic with escalating regional tensions?

Updated: May 15

Thirivikram Balaji, (Research Intern),

Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad

Established in 1986, the Arctic Council seeks to facilitate cooperation among states in the Arctic circle (Global North), particularly in the areas of sustainable development and environmental protection. Following the ambitious Paris Agreement of 2015 that places a cap on the increase in global temperature to 2 above pre-industrial levels, and aims to reduce it to 1.5 by the end of this century, a meeting was held in Fairbanks Alaska in March 2016 to address the implications of the measures taken by the council[1]. The cooperation of the Arctic Council was deemed crucial in achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement, as the rise in temperature in the arctic circle has been twice the global average.

While the Council, which comprises of eight member nations (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Russia, Norway, Sweden and the United States) and six regional indigenous communities has made its own agreements for controlling marine oil pollution and increasing scientific cooperation in pursuit of the goals of the Paris agreement, it is riddled with drawbacks. The Arctic Council is a mere forum whose programs are funded and implemented by individual member states, thereby having no means to ensure compliance and implementation of its ambitious ventures[2]. This is turn places immense responsibility on member states voluntarily comply with agreements and fund projects. However, with the recent shift in the geopolitical climate in the global north, the arctic nations have begun to prioritize their individual economic and political interests over the Paris Agreement.

The first major setback in controlling climate change in the north pole was the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris agreement on June 1st, 2017, with its President, Donald Trump, making an announcement that The agreement would weaken the competitive Industrial power of the US[3]. While this exit elicited a global outcry, it was expected. The US did not deny the dangers of global warming but merely stated that the economic loss caused by the Paris agreement far outweighed its benefits. Despite its sizeable contribution to global warming, the US has been actively promoting gas and oil efforts nationally.

This trend, however, is not likely to be restricted to the United States, as the Arctic problem, is in fact, much deeper. The drastic increase in the temperatures of the Arctic waters has had one very noticeable consequence, the melting of ice. While addressing the Arctic Council earlier this year, US secretary of State, Mike Pompeo referred to the Arctic as “the forefront of opportunity and abundance” and welcomed the quickly disappearing ice in the region as an opportunity for economic growth[4]. Climate change concerns have seemingly taken the back burner as the Arctic nations have started making their own ambitious plans to claim the booty in the region that has become far more accessible with the receding ice. The Arctic has an abundance of mineral deposits, diamonds, gold and uranium, along with 13% of the globe’s undiscovered oil and 30% of the natural gas reserves[5].

As more nations have started eyeing these natural resources, the battle for dominance in the region is becoming heated with Canada becoming the third country to claim a large chunk of the Arctic ocean based on scientific data by submitting its report to the United Nations, following Russia and Denmark[6]. With these bids to achieve control in the region foreshadowing a potential conflict in the region, it isn’t very likely that the targets of the Paris agreement can be achieved. Moreover, numerous studies suggest that the spike in temperatures in the north the pole cannot be controlled to the limits set by the Paris agreement even by reducing the greenhouse gas emissions, with experts stating that there is a 6% probability of Summer ice in the Arctic disappearing completely[7].

Climate control also faces another big hit, as the biggest contributor for research in the field, the United States, has drastically cut its funding while focusing more on military and space technology. The EPA (Environment Protection Agency) is facing the steepest cut in history; a whopping $2.6 Billion, which translates to 31.4 of its entire budget. This budget cut has choked funding to crucial programs such as the International Climate Change Program, Clean Power Plan and Cooperation in Climate Change Research. Lack of adequate funding will have a direct impact on pertinent research, throwing a spanner into the wheels of the UN’s ambitious plan.

The situation in the Arctic does look dire, with members of the Arctic Council focusing more on their own economic needs and interest and the, dwindling funding for taking effective measures to mitigate climate change. The United States used the non-binding nature of the Paris Agreement for a quick way out, and the cooperation amongst the members in the Arctic Council appears minimal with countries more interested in laying claim over the resources in the Arctic. With the likelihood of achieving the goals set by the Paris agreement constantly diminishing in the Arctic, a more economically viable and practical solution needs to be sought out by the United Nations and the regional powers.


[1] ‘Arctic Council Contribution to the Impact of the Paris Agreement’ United Nations Climate Change (UNCC) (21 March, 2016) <> Last accessed on 19 December, 2019 [2] ‘The Arctic Council: A Backgrounder’ The Arctic Council (20 May, 2015) <> Last accessed on 19 December, 2019 [3] Yong Xiang, ‘The withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Agreement and its impact on global climate change governance’ Science Direct (December 04. 2017) [4] Jennifer Hansler, ‘Pompeo: Melting sea ice presents 'new opportunities for trade' ‘ CNN POLITICS (May 7, 2019) <> Last Accessed on 20 December, 2019 [5] Richard Kemeny, ‘While countries battle for control in the north pole, science is the ultimate winner’ American Association for the advancement of science (June 20, 2019) [6] Richard Kemeny, ‘While countries battle for control in the north pole, science is the ultimate winner’ American Association for the advancement of science (June 20, 2019) [7] EA Crunden ‘US breaks from artic consensus on climate change’ Climate Change News (July 10, 2019)

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