President to use Alaska meeting for global climate deal talks; critics say he can lead by stopping Shell drilling for oil
By Ed King
US president Barack Obama will make a visit to the Arctic at the end of August; the centrepiece of a renewed diplomacy drive on climate change.
Senior officials from China, Russia, India and the EU are scheduled to attend the State Department conference on Arctic leadership, named GLACIER.
In a video message, Obama said he would use the meeting in Alaska on 30-31 August to highlight the impact global warming is already having on some US communities.
“Climate change once seemed like a problem for future generations, but for most Americans it’s already a reality – deeper droughts, longer wildfire seasons, some of our cities even flood at high tide,” he said.
“In Alaska glaciers are melting… the hunting and fishing upon which generation have depended for a way of life and their jobs are being threatened.”
Obama said he will meet with Americans who “deal with climate change every day”, labelling the region’s struggles a “preview” of what is to come.
“It’s a wake-up call – the alarm bells are ringing – and as long as I am president American will lead the world to meet this threat,” he said.
Nearly 200 countries are working towards a global climate deal to limit warming to levels deemed safe, with a UN pact expected to be finalised in Paris this December.
Within the US the issue is deeply polarising and likely to be a key factor in the 2016 presidential race.
While Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton has pledged to boost renewable energy sources, most of her potential Republican opponents deny the climate is a major issue.
Obama recently unveiled his flagship piece of climate legislation, aimed at slashing carbon emissions from power plants up to 32% by 2030.
Yet critics say the administration’s decision to allow Shell to drill for oil in the Arctic this summer is “irreconcilable” with its stated goal to keep warming below the globally agreed 2C limit.
A report by Greenpeace and Oil Change International warns the oil and gas reserves that could be unlocked by Arctic drilling cannot be burnt in a “climate safe” world.
“Industry and government claims that Arctic oil is ‘needed’ are based on oil supply and demand scenarios that will lead to at least 5 degrees Celsius warming by 2100,” it says.
“From an investor perspective, US Arctic oil is an asset that has a high risk of becoming stranded as billions are poured into exploration for a resource that ultimately cannot be burned safely.”
US oil prices fell to a new six-year low on Thursday, with light sweet crude ending the day at $42.23 a barrel, due to concerns over global economic growth and continued high levels of supply.
Some analysts say global prices need to be between $150-200 a barrel for new Arctic discoveries to make economic sense, the NGO report noted.