Obama, Nordic leaders agree to new Arctic protections

Obama, Nordic leaders agree to new Arctic protections
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President Obama and the leaders of five Nordic countries agreed Friday to environmental protections for the Arctic that could restrict oil and gas drilling and other commercial activity there.

As part of a wide-ranging visit Friday, the leaders of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden agreed along with Obama to evaluate all potential commercial activity in their zones of the Arctic — including oil and natural gas drilling — based in part on environmental and climate change impact.

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It expands on an agreement Obama made with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to implement a similar climate test in the Canadian and U.S. portions of the Arctic Ocean.

“We will work towards the highest global standards, best international practice, and a precautionary approach, when considering new and existing commercial activities in the Arctic, including oil and gas operations,” the countries stated in their joint declaration Friday.

In a fact sheet explaining the agreement, the White House said the six nations “committed to working towards conditioning commercial activity in the Arctic in part on world-class environmental standards and international and national climate change goals.”

The six countries control about half of the Arctic’s waters.

The agreement has the potential to make it even harder to drill in the Arctic. Obama has already canceled two proposed lease sales that would have happened this year for Arctic drilling rights and said that future lease sales, if they happen at all, would be evaluated on environmental measures.

The Arctic bears the brunt of climate change — far worse than the rest of the world. Its climate warms about two or three times faster than the Earth’s average, and sea ice and glacier loss hit the area particularly hard.

Environmentalists cheered Friday’s announcement.

“Today’s announcement demonstrates the profound political and moral significance of the Paris Agreement, which has elevated the urgent need to tackle the climate crisis to the forefront of international relations and energy policy,” John Coequyt, the Sierra Club’s global climate policy director, said in a statement.

“Today’s joint announcement from President Obama and Nordic countries shows the commitment of our nations to set bold standards to address climate change and builds upon the agreements and commitments made in Paris,” said Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League.