The US and five Nordic states will take a “precautionary approach” to oil and gas drilling in the Arctic, they agreed on Friday.
A joint statement emphasised their commitment to international climate goals, which analysts warn are incompatible with costly Arctic exploration.
Following a similar commitment by Canada in April, it leaves Russia as the only Arctic nation not signed up to science-based standards.
Governments agreed in Paris last December to hold global warming “well below 2C”. At least one third of proven oil reserves are understood to be unburnable within that limit, making further resources superfluous.
Many ventures in the polar region have been shelved or cancelled in recent years amid slumped oil prices and campaigner pressure.
Yet searching for an estimated US$1 trillion worth of hydrocarbons between the melting icecaps has not been banned by the US, Norway or Russia.
President Barack Obama’s administration includes the Arctic Ocean in its five-year oil and gas leasing plan. The Norwegian government is set to award a fresh round of Arctic licences this Wednesday.
“If this is not hypocrisy, I don’t know what it is,” Greenpeace Norway director Truls Gulowsen told Climate Home.
“Many people are quite angry and disappointed and finally starting to see the link between the climate crisis and business-as-usual exploration for more fossil fuels.”
Along with other NGOs, Greenpeace is preparing a lawsuit against the Norwegian government, arguing it is breaching citizens’ constitutional right to a healthy environment.
Also in Friday’s joint statement, signed by Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, are promises to cooperate on implementing the Paris Agreement.
This includes initiatives to protect forests, crack down on methane leaks and fund sustainable energy in Africa.
They will also work “to achieve ambitious outcomes” in international forums to phase out potent warming HFC gases and cut aviation emissions.
No mention was made of the International Maritime Organization, where the US last month opposed a proposal to set a shipping emissions target.