Finland’s president is lobbying Putin, Trump to include the Arctic in their Helsinki summit

Conservation groups praise Pres. Sauli Niinistö’s efforts to raise the issue of black carbon in Arctic with the Russian and U.S. presidents.

By Kevin McGwin - June 29, 2018

Finnish president Sauli Niinistö is encouraging Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin to put Arctic issues on the agenda when the two presidents meet in Helsinki on July 16.

“I intend to take up our concerns on the tense situation in the Baltic Sea region as well as our Arctic objectives, in particular common efforts to tackle black carbon emissions,” Niinistö said in a statement issued on Thursday.

Niinistö has previously spoken about the need to address black carbon, the soot that is released when certain types of fuel are burned. The type of fuel known as heavy fuel oil is of particular concern in the Arctic, since the soot it produces settles on ice, causing it to absorb more energy and melt faster.

Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto holds a news conference of the Putin-Trump meeting in Mantyniemi, the official residence of Finnish President, in Helsinki, Finland June 28, 2018. (Lehtikuva / Roni Rekomaa via Reuters)

Calling black carbon in the Arctic “an urgent issue,” Niinistö said he planned to bring up the matter with the two presidents in Helsinki.

“If we lose the Arctic, we’ll lose the entire Earth,” Niinistö told the media. “I’ve talked about this with both [Putin and Trump] previously, and I’ll address the issue again. Hopefully it’ll be possible to get them to talk about the issue bilaterally as well, and maybe even to produce some results.”

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In April, the IMO, the UN body that oversees maritime issues, agreed to consider a proposal, co-sponsored by Finland, to implement a ban on heavy fuels in the Arctic.

Such a ban, already in place in the Antarctic and in some parts of the Arctic, would have a rapid benefit in the Arctic, according to Laura Meller, a Finnish polar advisor with Greenpeace, a conservancy.

“It has been encouraging to see President Niinistö highlight the importance of rapid action on climate change in his previous meetings with both Putin and Trump,” she said.

She reckoned the Putin-Trump meeting was an opportunity for Niinistö to further emphasise the significance of black-carbon reduction in the Arctic.

[Finland president calls for Arctic Council to reduce black carbon emissions]

Getting the two presidents to agree on limiting black carbon would have a direct impact on Arctic communities, according to Sian Prior, the head of Alliance for an HFO Free Arctic, a conservation group, but addressing the changes caused by a warming Arctic was also important on global scale, she argued.

“There is a duty on Arctic nations to manage the region responsibly on behalf of the world’s nations. We urge presidents Niinistö, Putin and Trump to champion a commitment to reduce environmental risks and eliminate avoidable impacts, for example by requiring the use of cleaner fuels by shipping in the region,” she said.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin talk during the family photo session at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam November 11, 2017. (Jorge Silva / Reuters File Photo)

Last March, prior to his country starting its two-year chairmanship of the Arctic Council, Niinistö proposed a summit of the leaders of the Arctic countries. In June, he repeated the call, suggesting that “a firm high-level commitment to reduce black carbon emissions in the Arctic” was a realistic outcome of such a meeting.

Finnish observers have suggested that next month’s meeting between Putin and Trump could serve as an indication that progress is being made towards an Arctic summit.