Senior Arctic Officials Met in Whitehorse

October 23, 2013 - The Arctic Council Senior Arctic Officials held their first meeting under Canada’s Arctic Council chairmanship in Whitehorse, Yukon, on October 21 to 23, 2013.

The Arctic Council is the premier intergovernmental forum for Arctic issues, bringing together representatives of the eight Arctic states and six Indigenous Permanent Participant organizations.

The theme for Canada’s chairmanship is “Development for the People of the North.”

“During Canada’s Chairmanship, the Council will focus its work on initiatives that will make a difference in the lives of Northerners,” said the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of the Environment, Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, Minister for the Arctic Council, and Chair of the Arctic Council. “I thank all delegates for their contributions on making responsible resource development, safe Arctic shipping and sustainable circumpolar communities the Council’s top priorities.”

Senior Arctic officials heard from the Arctic Council’s six working groups and four task forces on the progress being made on the priorities outlined by Arctic Council ministers at the Kiruna ministerial meeting in May 2013.

Patrick Borbey, Chair of Senior Arctic Officials, said, “I’m pleased with the headway that the Council has made. Senior Arctic Officials approved four projects and a final report and have discussed ways in which to strengthen the Council and improve its coordination.”

Senior Arctic Officials approved a report by the Arctic Contaminants Action Program on environmentally sound management and safe storage of obsolete pesticides in Northern Russia.

They also approved projects to be completed by the Sustainable Development Working Group on mental wellness, adaptation to climate change, gender equality, and cancer among circumpolar Indigenous peoples. Senior Arctic Officials and Permanent Participants also provided guidance to working groups and task forces, including on the creation of a circumpolar business forum.

The Arctic Council is committed to communicating the results of its work to Northerners. In Whitehorse, the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) working group released the report Life Linked to Ice, which provides valuable information to policy-makers on the consequences for biodiversity of the dramatic changes occurring to sea ice.

The Council and its CAFF working group, in partnership with the Yukon Science Institute, is hosting a public outreach event, Arctic Waters and Biodiversity in a Time of Change: The Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna, at 7 p.m. on October 23 at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre.

A backgrounder follows.

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Backgrounder - The Arctic Council

What is the Arctic Council?

The Arctic Council is the leading intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic states, Arctic Indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues, in particular on issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic.

Who takes part?

The following are Arctic Council states: Canada, Kingdom of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States.

In addition, six organizations representing Arctic Indigenous peoples have status as Permanent Participants. The category of Permanent Participant was created to provide for active participation and full consultation with the Arctic Indigenous peoples within the Council. They include the Aleut International Association, Arctic Athabaskan Council, Gwich’in Council International, Inuit Circumpolar Council, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North and Saami Council.

What does it do?

The work of the Council is primarily carried out in six working groups.

The Council may also establish task forces or expert groups to carry out specific work. Current task forces and expert groups are:

  • Task Force for Action on Black Carbon and Methane
  • Task Force to Facilitate the Creation of a Circumpolar Business Forum
  • Task Force for Enhancing Scientific Cooperation in the Arctic
  • Task Force on Arctic Marine Oil Pollution Prevention

What are some of its recent significant accomplishments?

The Arctic Council regularly produces comprehensive, cutting-edge environmental, ecological and social assessments through its working groups. Three recent such products are:

The Council has also provided a forum for the negotiation of two important legally binding agreements among the eight Arctic states. The first, on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic, was signed in Nuuk, Greenland, at the 2011 Ministerial Meeting. The second, on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic, was signed in Kiruna, Sweden, at the 2013 Ministerial Meeting.

How does it work?

Arctic Council assessments and recommendations are the result of research and analysis undertaken by the working groups. Decisions of the Arctic Council are taken by consensus among the eight Arctic Council states. This means that all of the Council’s initiatives must be supported by all Arctic Council states. The Arctic Council provides for the full consultation and involvement of Permanent Participants in decisions of the Arctic Council.

Meetings of Arctic Council ministers are held every two years, marking the transition from one chairmanship to the next. The chairmanship rotates among the Arctic Council states. The first country to chair the Arctic Council was Canada (1996-1998), followed by the United States, Finland, Iceland, Russia, Norway, Kingdom of Denmark and Sweden. Now, from 2013-2015, Canada is once again the chair of the Council.

Observers

Observer status in the Arctic Council is open to non-Arctic states, along with inter-governmental, inter-parliamentary, global, regional and non-governmental organizations that the Council determines can contribute to its work. Arctic Council observers primarily contribute through their engagement in the Council at the level of working groups.

What doesn’t it do?

The Arctic Council is a forum; it has no programming budget. All projects or initiatives are sponsored by states.

The Arctic Council does not and cannot implement or enforce its guidelines, assessments or recommendations. That responsibility belongs to each individual Arctic state.

The Arctic Council’s mandate, as laid out in the Ottawa Declaration, expressly excludes military security.