25th anniversary of Arctic Council – Eye on the Arctic
The Arctic Council, an international forum of eight circumpolar nations and six Arctic indigenous groups, will celebrate its 25th anniversary on September 19.
The forum was established in Canada in 1996 with the Ottawa Declaration, to foster northern cooperation in sustainable development and environmental protection.
Russia currently holds the two-year rotating presidency of the forum and on Thursday the country’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, hailed the role of the Council in allowing the countries of the North to work together on common concerns.
“Today, the Arctic represents a unique but fragile ecosystem, people who live and work there, and enormous potential for common development,” Lavrov said in a press release.
“It is good to see that, despite the complexity of world affairs, interstate relations in the high latitudes continue to develop constructively. I am delighted to see that this engagement is in large part made possible through the work of the Arctic Council. A quarter of a century of persistent and meticulous work on building an interaction system is really paying off.
Mary Simon, the current Governor General of Canada, served as the forum’s first Arctic Senior Officials Chair.
In a video posted recently on the Arctic Council website, Simon spoke about the challenges of setting up the forum.
“Opponents were all about the fact that there was already an agreement between the eight Arctic states which was the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy and that we could just add that,” he said. she declared.
(The Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy was a non-binding agreement on environmental protection adopted by the Arctic states in 1991.)
“But the point is that the initiative of the Arctic Council came from the highest leaders of the different countries and we felt that if we brought together the eight Arctic countries and approached all levels of cooperation, it would be a much stronger organization. “
Simon says the Arctic environmental protection strategy was working well at the time, but missing a key component of growing concern for northerners: development.
“It’s so important to deal with environmental issues, but we also have to deal with development issues,” she said. “Sustainable development has become a key element in the creation of the Arctic Council.
During its existence, the work of the forum resulted in three legally binding agreements: the 2011 Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic, which defines the responsibilities of Arctic states in the event of a disaster; the 2013 Cooperation Agreement on Preparedness and Response to Marine Oil Pollution in the Arctic and the 2017 Agreement on Strengthening International Scientific Cooperation in the Arctic, an initiative of the United States and of Russia to facilitate the transport of equipment, samples and data across borders in the North and to facilitate scientific collaboration and sharing.
In addition, the work of the Arctic Council working groups – assemblies of experts brought together to address specific themes or issues affecting the North, has helped inform a range of international climate policies, including the accord. of Paris on the climate.
The Arctic Council excludes military and security issues from its work and has been able to maintain close cooperation even during times of high tension between Russia and the West.
Importance of Indigenous participation
In 2018, a group of international academics nominated the Arctic Council for the Nobel Peace Prize call as a “model of promoting brotherhood among nations”, and said that the inclusion of indigenous peoples and indigenous knowledge in the forum was an example for the rest of the world.
Simon says that’s part of what makes the board so unique.
“The eight Arctic countries now have a forum where they can address the very critical issues facing the Arctic with the participation of indigenous peoples. [The Indigenous Peoples] having the opportunity to sit down with ministers and other dignitaries to talk about these issues and also to find ways to address them, so it is very important to hear the human dimension.
Hjalmar Dahl, president of the Greenland Inuit Circumpolar Council and chair of the Indigenous Peoples Secretariat, says indigenous knowledge is key to the council’s work.
“Indigenous knowledge has been officially recognized by the Arctic Council as important for understanding the Arctic in numerous ministerial declarations, including the 1996 Ottawa Declaration on the Establishment of the Arctic Council,” a- he said in a press release.
“The role of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic and their indigenous knowledge is invaluable not only for the future development of Arctic societies, but also for the conservation and sustainable use of biological resources.
In addition to Arctic states and indigenous groups (known in the forum as permanent participants), the Arctic Council also has 38 observers comprised of non-Arctic states, NGOs, and intergovernmental and interparliamentary organizations.
Observers do not participate in consensus decisions of the forum, but contribute to the Arctic Council through its six working groups that tackle areas such as emergency preparedness and arctic contaminants.
Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn (at) cbc.ca
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