Environmental ministers and officials from 23 countries met Thursday near a glacier that is retreating at an alarming pace and agreed that governments must stop arguing over global warming and start acting.
The meeting in the Arctic town of Ilulissat came at the end of a three-day trip by the officials through Greenland’s spectacular but shrinking expanses of ice and snow. The vast island is one of the prime spots for assessing whether global warming is worsening.
Ilulissat sits at the edge of the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier that has retreated nearly seven miles since 1960, coming to symbolize fears that the planet is approaching a dangerous warming.
The officials came from both sides of global warming controversy’s fault lines – from countries that have signed the Kyoto Protocol, which aims to counter global warming by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, and those that reject it, including the United States.
The dispute over Kyoto has been marked with sharp criticisms from both factions – but the participants in this week’s meetings and inspection trips appeared unified in agreeing that the time for such hot rhetoric was past.
“We have to act, we cannot afford inaction,” said Connie Hedegaard, the environment minister of Denmark, of which Greenland is a semi-autonomous territory.
She told a news conference that the officials’ discussions were “open and free,” but the contents of the discussion were kept confidential. U.S. envoy Harlan Watson did not appear at the news conference and was unavailable for comment.
The conference took no decisions on how to fight global warming.
The United States, which accounts for one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gases, has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, saying it would harm their economies by raising energy prices, and cost five million jobs in the U.S. alone.
Last month President Bush presented a plan that critics say is a ploy to undo the Kyoto pact.
The initiative is aimed at inventing and selling technologies ranging from “clean coal” and wind power to next-generation nuclear fission as a means of reducing pollution and addressing climate concerns.
Participants in the Greenland meeting said that the Kyoto Protocol and the U.S. initiative should be regarded as “complimentary, not in opposition,” said British environment minister Elliot Morley.
The meeting also included officials from Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Canada, China, the EU Commission, Germany, the Faeroe Islands, Finland, France, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Japan, Morocco, Mexico, Norway, Russia, Switzerland, Sweden and Tuvalu.
JAN M. OLSEN/AP