Arctic Council at 20: Making a Difference Regionally
By Srimal Fernando, Global Editor, The Diplomatic Society
We all know the temperatures are rising in the Arctic twice as fast as the average rise in the rest of the world. The long-term decline in sea ice in the Arctic region could worsen and cause climate change globally. Therefore, in the past 20 years the Artic Council has a fascinating account of actions aiming at enhancing scientific cooperation, protecting the environment and focusing on high level discussion based on common issues relating to the Artic member states.
Arctic Frontiers in Tromsø, Norway The second panel of the day included (from right to left) Karen Ellemann (Denmark's Minister for Equal Opportunities and Nordic Cooperation), Vladimir Barbin (Senior Arctic Official for the Russian Federation), Erna Solberg (Prime Minister of Norway), Juha Sipilä (Prime Minister of Finland), Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson (Minister of Foreign Affairs for Iceland), Jeffrey Sachs (Columbia University), and Stephen Sackur (moderator, of the BBC).
(Photo: Arctic Council Secretariat / Linnea Nordström)
In this context the Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said, “The Artic Council is more relevant and important than ever before. One of the reasons for its success is the fact that it gathers all key stake holders, including indigenous people”. On September 19, 1996, twenty years ago in Ottawa, the Artic Council born as a high level intergovernmental forum consisting eight Arctic nations above the arctic circle. Canada, United States, Russia, Denmark, Norway, Greenland, Finland, Iceland and Sweden were the first of eight Member States of the newly-founded Arctic Council in 1996.
Two years later, in September 1998, the First Ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council was held in the Canadian town of Iqaluit. The Arctic Council Secretariat (ACS) was formally established in the Norwegian town of Tromsø in January 2013. Icelandic Secretary General of the Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources Magnús Jóhannesson was appointed as the first Director of the Arctic Council's Secretariat (ACS) in 2012. Altaic Council Director Jóhannesson has also been the chair of the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) working group and co-chair of the Ecosystem-based Management Experts Group of the Arctic Council. “The Secretariat will have an important role in supporting the communication of these matters to the public at large in the Arctic Council member states as well as to the global community. I really look forward to working on these important challenges along with the staff of the new Secretariat,” said Magnús Jóhannesson, the Director of the Arctic Council's Secretariat (ACS).
Arctic Council member states approved a budget of US$ 1.3 million for 2015 to support the Arctic Council's Secretariat (ACS) annual work programmes (Arctic Council 2015). Each member state contributes an equal share to the budget which is one-eighth of the total annual allocation. In addition, the host country was allocated a budget of US$ 587,233 for the Arctic Council's Secretariat (ACS) in 2015 (Arctic Council 2015).
Ten years since the Arctic Council was established, in efforts to safeguard the Arctic, the International Arctic Science Committee presented the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) in 2005. Among the other important accomplishments the Arctic Biodiversity Assessment 2013: Report for Policy Makers with nine key findings and the seventeen recommendations published in the assessment were strongly recognized by environmentalists ,scientists and policymakers who had a concern about the importance of safeguarding the Arctic territory. In fact, in the past two decades, there have been many milestones.
Photograph: Senior Arctic Officials' meeting in Juneau, Alaska. (Arctic Council Image: Linnea Nordström)
The Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Artic which was signed in 2011 at the Greenland Ministerial Meeting and the Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic signed in 2013 at the Sweden Ministerial Meeting are some of the most successful accomplishments undertaken in its twenty year history.
There are many different models of action plans implemented by the Artic Council. The Organization secretariat oversees the development and implementation of plans and Programs of Arctic Biodiversity Assessment, Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program (CBMP), Arctic Climate Assessment and Arctic Human Development Report. Over 4 million people live in the Arctic and the impact of climate change on Arctic indigenous people and rapid change of life style is a growing concern for the Arctic Council. The Artic Council primarily focuses on four key working areas namely Artic people, the oceans, Biodiversity, Environmental and Climate issues. In 2014 the Arctic Council established the Arctic Economic Council (AEC) to facilitate business cooperation across Arctic counties. The Arctic Economic Council held a meeting in Russia for the first time, on February 8 in St. Petersburg. Indeed, despite many challenges the steps taken in the past two decades by the Arctic Council member nations had made a significant impact regionally.