Arctic Council Advances Environmental, Development Agenda

THE WARMING OF THE ARCTIC OCEAN HAS LED TO CONSIDERABLE LOSS OF ICE: This leads to the possibility that the north could serve as a major shipping route, cutting transit times between Asia, Europe, and North America.

THE WARMING OF THE ARCTIC OCEAN HAS LED TO CONSIDERABLE LOSS OF ICE: This leads to the possibility that the north could serve as a major shipping route, cutting transit times between Asia, Europe, and North America.

Senior officials from the Arctic Council’s eight member states and six indigenous permanent participant organizations (PPs) concluded their latest meeting in Portland, Maine, earlier this month.

Delegates heard updates from the council’s working groups, task forces, and others on a number of key initiatives, including black carbon and methane mitigation, Arctic resilience. The group also undertook a wide-ranging discussion of the council’s present and future work on climate change, and addressed several initiatives to strengthen the council, including strengthening the capacity of the PPs.

The eight Arctic States are Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden, and the United States. The U.S. has chaired the council since 2015. Finland will assume the chairmanship next year.

The six indigenous Permanent Participant organizations are the Aleut International Association, the Arctic Athabaskan Council, the Gwich’In Council International, the Inuit Circumpolar Council, the Saami Council, and RAIPON – the Russian Association of Indigenous People of the North.

The warming of the Arctic Ocean has led to considerable loss of ice, leading to the possibility that the north could serve as a major shipping route, cutting transit times between Asia, Europe, and North America.

The senior Arctic officials used this occasion to approve an updated strategic plan for Working Group ACAP (Arctic Contaminants Action Program) and a new communications strategy for the Arctic Council. They also agreed in principle to undertake the development of a long-term strategic plan for the Council.

“The meeting in Portland underscored the council’s cooperative spirit and the urgency of the tasks at hand,” said Ambassador David Balton, Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials. “The effects of climate change are revealing themselves faster in the Arctic than anywhere else in the world, so the council’s groundbreaking work to advance knowledge and prepare for the future is critical to helping Arctic communities build resilience in the face of these rapid changes.”

The three currently active task forces of the Arctic Council presented updates on their work to advance cooperation on Arctic marine issues, enhance crossborder scientific cooperation, and survey the current state of telecommunications infrastructure in the Arctic.

The Arctic Council’s six working groups also reported progress on specific elements of their work, including a suite of projects addressing short-lived climate pollutants, highlighting the importance of practical measures to reduce black carbon emissions and introduce options for renewable energy investments in the Russian Arctic. There was also an assessment of new chemicals (some used as replacements for banned substances) that are now being found in Arctic environments, raising new concerns, and a report summarizing the status and trends in key biotic elements of the Arctic marine environment.

A recently-held exercise, led by the U.S. Coast Guard, supporting the 2011 Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution and Response in the Arctic, provided an important opportunity to improve international cooperation and preparedness. There is also an ongoing project to develop an interactive, user-friendly tool to capture Arctic conditions and shipping-related activities, allowing for trend and risk analysis for the Arctic marine environment.

The council also heard a report on the Arctic economy, socio-economic conditions, and environmental issues that aims to improve the knowledge base for policy-making to support sustainable development

Arctic Council delegates will meet next in Juneau, Alaska, in March 2017.