Arctic Council

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The Arctic Council

The Arctic Council is a high-level intergovernmental forum that addresses issues faced by the Arctic governments and the indigenous people of the Arctic. It has eight member countries: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States.

History of the Arctic Council

The first step towards the formation of the Council occurred in 1991 when the eight Arctic countries signed the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS). The 1996 Ottawa Declaration[1] established the Arctic Council[2] as forum for promoting cooperation, coordination, and interaction among the Arctic States, with the involvement of the Arctic Indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on issues such as sustainable development and environmental protection.[3][4] The Arctic Council has conducted studies on climate change, oil and gas, and Arctic shipping.[4][5][6][7]

In 2011, the Council member states concluded the Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement, the first binding treaty concluded under the Council's auspices.[4][8]


Member states

Only states with territory in the Arctic can be members of the Council. All eight countries are members making the Arctic Council a circumpolar forum. The Council also has permanent and ad hoc observer countries and "permanent participants".[9]


Chairmanship of the Council rotates every two years.[10] The current chair is the United States, which serves until the Ministerial meeting in 2017.[11] Canada (1996–1998) served as first Chair, followed by the United States (1998–2000), Finland (2000–2002), Iceland (2002–2004), Russia (2004–2006), Norway (2006–2009), Denmark (2009–2011), Sweden (2011–2013)[10] and Susan Harper, Canada (2013-2015). Norway, Denmark, and Sweden agreed on a set of common priorities for their three chairmanships.[12]

Observer states

Observer states

Observer status is open to non-Arctic states approved by the Council at the Ministerial Meetings that occur once every two years. Observers have no voting rights in the Council. As of May 2013, twelve non-Arctic states have Observer status.[13][14] Observer states receive invitations for most Council meetings. Their participation in projects and task forces within the Working Groups is not always possible, but this poses few problems as few Observer States want to participate at such a detailed level.[4][15]

In 2011, the Council clarified its criteria for admission of observers, most notably including a requirement of applicants to "recognize Arctic States’ sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the Arctic" and "recognize that an extensive legal framework applies to the Arctic Ocean including, notably, the Law of the Sea, and that this framework provides a solid foundation for responsible management of this ocean".[4]

Pending observer states

Pending observer states need to request permission for their presence at each individual meeting; such requests are routine and most of them are granted. At the 2013 Ministerial Meeting in Kiruna, Sweden, the EU requested full observer status. It was not granted, mostly because the members do not agree on the EU ban on hunting seals.

The indigenous Permanent Participants (PPs) have mixed views about the increasing group of non-Arctic observers. Some fear that their roles will be marginalized if large players such as the EU receive more attention.[citation needed]

The role of observers was re-evaluated, as were the criteria for admission. As a result, the distinction between permanent and ad hoc observers were dropped. [1]

Nongovernmental observers

Approved intergovernmental and interparliamentary organizations (both global and regional) and non-governmental organizations can also obtain Observer Status. They include the Arctic Parliamentarians,[17] International Union for Conservation of Nature, the International Red Cross Federation, the Nordic Council, the Northern Forum,[18] United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme; and a handful of non-governmental organizations such as the Association of World Reindeer Herders,[19] the University of the Arctic, and the World Wide Fund for Nature-Arctic Programme.

Indigenous peoples

Seven of the eight member states have sizeable indigenous communities living in their Arctic areas (only Iceland does not). Organizations of Arctic indigenous peoples can obtain the status of Permanent Participant to the Arctic Council,[4] but only if they represent a single indigenous people resident in more than one Arctic State or more than one Arctic indigenous people resident in a single Arctic State. The number of Permanent Participants should at any time be less than the number of members. The category of Permanent Participants has been created to provide for active participation and full consultation with the Arctic indigenous representatives within the Arctic Council. This principle applies to all meetings and activities of the Arctic Council.

Permanent Participants may address the meetings. They may raise points of order that require immediate decision by the Chairman. Agendas of Ministerial Meetings need to be consulted beforehand with them; they may propose supplementary agenda items. When calling the biannual meetings of Senior Arctic Officials, the Permanent Participants must have been consulted beforehand. Finally, Permanent Participants may propose cooperative activities, such as projects. All this makes the position of Arctic indigenous peoples within the Arctic Council quite unique compared to the (often marginal) role of such peoples in other international governmental fora. However, decision making in the Arctic Council remains in the hands of the eight member states, on the basis of consensus.

As of 2014, six Arctic indigenous communities have Permanent Participant status.[4] These groups are represented by the Aleut International Association,[20] Arctic Athabaskan Council,[21] Gwich'in Council International,[22] Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON),[23] and the Saami Council.[24] These indigenous organisations vary widely in their organisational capacities and the size of the population they represent. To illustrate, RAIPON represents some 250,000 indigenous people of various (mostly Siberian) tribes; the ICC some 150,000 Inuit. On the other hand, the Gwich'in Council and the Aleut Association each represent only a few thousand people.

It is costly for these groups to be represented at every Council meeting, especially since they take place across the entire circumpolar realm. To enhance the capacity of the PPs to pursue the objectives of the Arctic Council and to assist them develop their internal capacity to participate and intervene in Council meetings, the Council has established—and provides financial support to—the Indigenous Peoples' Secretariat (IPS).[25] The IPS is located in Copenhagen, Denmark and its board decides on the allocation of the funds.

However prominent the role of indigenous peoples, the Permanent Participant status does not confer any legal recognition as peoples. The Ottawa Declaration, the Arctic Council's founding document, explicitly states (in a footnote): "The use of the term 'peoples' in this declaration shall not be construed as having any implications as regard the rights which may attach to the term under international law." Incidentally, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 13 September 2007 after 22 years of negotiations, was rejected by Canada and the United States, while Russia abstained.[26] Both the United States and Canada have their origins as colonies of the United Kingdom and have large non-indigenous immigrant majorities and small remnant indigenous populations. This means that most Arctic indigenous people were not covered by the rights laid out in the declaration. In November 2010, Canada officially endorsed the declaration and in December of that year President Obama declared the United States would sign the declaration.

Administrative aspects


The Arctic Council convenes every six months somewhere in the Chair's country for a Senior Arctic Officials (SAO) meeting. SAOs are high-level representatives from the eight member nations. Sometimes they are ambassadors, but often they are senior foreign ministry officials entrusted with staff-level coordination. Representatives of the six Permanent Participants and the official Observers also are in attendance.

At the end of the two-year cycle, the Chair hosts a Ministerial-level meeting, which is the culmination of the Council's work for that period. Most of the eight member nations are represented by a Minister from their Foreign Affairs, Northern Affairs, or Environment Ministry.

A formal, though non-binding, "Declaration", named for the town in which the meeting is held, sums up the past accomplishments and the future work of the Council. These Declarations cover climate change, sustainable development, Arctic monitoring and assessment, persistent organic pollutants and other contaminants, and the work of the Council's five Working Groups.

Arctic Council working groups document Arctic problems and challenges such as sea ice loss, glacier melting, tundra thawing, increase of mercury in food chains, and ocean acidification affecting the entire marine ecosystem. Arctic Council members agreed to action points on protecting the Arctic but most have never materialized.[27]

Locations for the Ministerial meetings:

The secretariat

Each rotating Chair nation accepts responsibility for maintaining the secretariat, which handles the administrative aspects of the Council, including organizing semiannual meetings, hosting the website, and distributing reports and documents. The Norwegian Polar Institute hosted the Arctic Council Secretariat for the six-year period from 2007 to 2013; this was based on an agreement between the three successive Scandinavian Chairs, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. This temporary Secretariat had a staff of three.

In 2012 the Council moved towards creating a permanent secretariat in Tromsø, Norway.[4][28] Magnús Jóhannesson (Iceland) is the director since 1 February 2013.

In addition, the Arctic Council works through six Working Groups and four Programs and Action Plans:

Working Groups

Programs and Action Plans

Security and geopolitical issues

The Arctic Council is often in the middle of security and geopolitical issues since the Arctic has peculiar interests to Member States and Observers. When the Arctic Council was founded in 1996, peace and security concerns were left out of its mandate. However, changes in the arctic environment and participants of the Arctic Council have led to a reconsideration of the relationship between geopolitical matters and the role of the Arctic Council.

Due to the climate change and melting of the Arctic sea-ice, more energy resources and waterways are now becoming accessible. Large reserves of oil, gas and minerals are located within the Arctic. This environmental factor generated territorial disputes among Member States. The Law of the Sea allows states to extend their EEZ (which allows exploitation of resources) if the states can prove that their continental shelf extends beyond the 200 nm limit.[4][37] Countries are claiming their sea at the utmost reach from their coastlines. There are disputes over several rocks located between Greenland and Canada, the Bering and Chukchi Seas between Russia and America, and Hans Island and the Lincoln Sea between Canada and Denmark.[38] In addition, a poll indicated that half of Canadian respondents said Canada should try to assert its full sovereignty rights over the Beaufort Sea compared to just 10 percent of Americans.[39] New commercial trans-Arctic shipping routes can be another factor of conflicts. A poll found that Canadians perceive the Northwest Passage as their internal Canadian waterway whereas other countries perceive it as an international waterway.[39]

Increase in number of Permanent Observers drew other national security issues. Observers are showing their interests in the Arctic region. China explicitly shown its desire to extract natural resources in Greenland.[38] Other interests are hidden which can eventually weaken Member States' presence in some way.

Military infrastructure is another point to consider. Except for U.S., defense commitment of Canada, Denmark, Norway and Russia is rapidly growing by military presence and building infrastructure.[37]

However, some say that the Arctic Council facilitates stability despite possible conflicts among Member States.[4] A Norwegian admiral Haakon Bruun Hanssen says the Arctic is “probably the most stable area in the world”. They say that laws are well established and followed.[38] Member states think that sharing cost of the development of Arctic shipping-lanes, research etc. by cooperation and good relationships between states is beneficial to all.[40]

Looking at these two different perspectives, some suggest that Arctic Council should expand its role by including peace and security issues as its agenda. The survey demonstrates that two thirds of constituencies (Nordic states) were very supportive on the issues of an Arctic nuclear-weapons free zone. More than 80 percent of Russians agreed that Arctic Council should cover peace-building issues.[41] They think that solving security matters in the Arctic Council will shorten a great amount of time than in UN. However, as of June 2014, military security matters are often avoided.[42]

See also


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  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 4.9 Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
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  7. Brigham, L.; McCalla, R.; Cunningham, E.; Barr, W.; VanderZwaag, D.; Chircop, A.; Santos-Pedro, V.M.; MacDonald, R.; Harder, S.; Ellis, B.; Snyder, J.; Huntington, H.; Skjoldal, H.; Gold, M.; Williams, M.; Wojhan, T.; Williams, M.; Falkingham, J. (2009). Brigham, Lawson; Santos-Pedro, V.M.; Juurmaa, K., eds. Arctic marine shipping assessment (AMSA) (PDF). Norway: Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME), Arctic Council. Archived (PDF) from the original on November 1, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  16. SAO meeting November 2009[dead link]
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  19. Association of World Reindeer Herders Archived September 28, 2007 at the Wayback Machine
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  23. Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East[dead link]
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  25. Terms, Reference and Guidelines[dead link]
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  33. The programme for the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME)
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External links