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The Arctic Council: Private Club or a Forum for Enthusiasts?

How the 'Arctic G8' collectively decides the future of the region

25 сентября 2020

In 1996, eight countries with territories in the Arctic signed the Ottawa Declaration to establish the Arctic Council. The main goal of the group is to develop the Arctic region without damaging its fragile ecosystem. Over almost 25 years of operation, this international organisation has proven that, despite the array of differences between the Arctic powers, common ground can still be found for the sake of the future of the region and its strategic significance for the entire planet. The Arctic Council is a compelling example of how countries can cooperate efficiently when they have the best interests of the Arctic in mind.

The eight countries with territory in the Arctic are Denmark, Iceland, Canada, Norway, Russia, the United States of America, Finland, and Sweden. On 19 September 1996, the Arctic Council was officially founded in Ottawa, Canada. In addition to the eight Arctic countries, the council also has representation from the indigenous nations of the Arctic, including the Athabascans, Aleuts, Gvichins, Inuits, and the Saami. In Russia, the Association of Indigenous Minorities of the North, Siberia, and the Russian Far East promotes the interests of the indigenous population.

Environmental preservation in the northern regions is not only vital for the countries and inhabitants of the Arctic; it concerns the entire planet. Accordingly, the Arctic Council also includes more than 10 observer countries and over 20 cross-governmental and non-profit organisations. Amongst these are the UN Environment Programme, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent, the Advisory Committee on Protection of the Sea, and the Association of World Reindeer Herders. These organisations and countries are involved in numerous projects and working groups for the council.

Every meeting of the Arctic Council is organised as a high-profile forum to discuss various objectives and future plans. Decisions are made on a consensual basis, which means that the G8 countries must vote unanimously and consider the opinions of other permanent members.

The Chairman of the Council is rotated every two years. Representatives from all eight countries take turns leading the organisation. Russia led the Council from 2004 to 2006 and will take the reins again between 2021 and 2023, after Iceland.

Each country determines the priorities of the council for the duration of their term. Canada, for example, focused on increasing the quality of life for the indigenous peoples of the North. When they headed the organisation for the second time in 2013, Canada supported projects providing access to telecommunications, cancer treatment, mental health care, and gender equality efforts. Iceland is currently serving as chairman until 2021.

At the moment, they are prioritising sustainable energy and fighting pollution in the Arctic seas, including microplastic pollution. During its first chairmanship, Russia promoted cooperation between members of the Arctic Council to prevent and reverse the effects of man-made disasters, initiated projects to monitor radiation levels, and emphasised the preservation of indigenous culture in the Arctic.

It's one thing to talk about problems, but actually solving these issues requires significant funding. That's why the Arctic Council Project Support Instrument was created in 2014. In total, the joint trust fund has more than 16 million EUR, of which more than 10 million was contributed by Russia. The Arctic Nature Finance Foundation welcomes all new members and contributions.

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