Science, People & Politics, Issue One January - March, 2014. ISSN 1751-598X (online)
From page 14
new sea routes will open. The second will tell us how fast the Arctic's wealth will be exploited.
Each Arctic nation and region has its own agenda, from the Greenlanders' wish for
independence, to Russia and Norway's urgent need to keep their finance flowing and find more
oil. The creatures of the Arctic have no voice but that which people who care will allow them to
have. If we are to keep healthy populations of many Arctic animals it will be essential that we find
a lot more about their behaviour and ecology, and protect places where they may still be able to
hang on if only a little summer ice remains.
Amid these multiple interests, there is one body - the Arctic Council - which can do much to unify
the Arctic States and interest groups. The Arctic Council is the region's most important
high-level forum, with the ability to steer the priorities of the Arctic nations, even if it cannot issue
The Council has eight Arctic state "members", Russia, Canada, Denmark-Greenland, Norway,
Iceland, Sweden, Finland, the U.S., "permanent participants" from the Inuit Circumpolar Council,
the Sami Council, and four other indigenous groups, twelve non-Arctic observer nations, with
China, India, Italy, South Korea, Japan and Singapore joining in 2013, and a wide range of NGO
observers, including the World Wide Fund for Nature. Almost everybody who has an interest in
the Arctic is there, except the European Union. Its application for observer status has been
deferred repeatedly because of the EU ban on imporated seal products which has
impoverished Inuit communities. Canada and Inuit groups are continuing legal action against the
ban, and will begin a campaign to increase awareness of the hunter' life.
The Council, which has high-level "ministerial" meetings every six months, has operated
principally by commissioning authoritative reports. One on Arctic Climate Change, for example,
was ground breaking. More recently the council has pushed along formal Arctic-wide
agreements between the eight Arctic nations.
The first two of these were uncontroversial: one on Search and Rescue Cooperation in 2011, and
the other on Oil Spill Preparedness and Response in 2013. Their greater significance is that they
are the first ever binding agreements to be negotiated among the eight Arctic states.
The Arctic does not lack legal instruments to deal with the kind of issues it faces. The law of the
Sea's Article 234 on "Ice-Covered Areas" allows States to apply within their exclusive economic
zones rules on pollution that are stricter than international standards, if the zone is ice-covered.
Article 211(6), on "Pollution from vessels", provides opportunities to protect defined areas that have
special "oceanographical and ecological" conditions.
The question now is one of getting the work done in advance of the problems arising. Canada
assumed the rotating two-year presidency of the Arctic Council in 2013, and its new chair, Patric
Borbey, said at the 2014 Arctic Frontiers Conference that Canada's intention is to "undertake more
forward-looking assessment", and to keep the council moving towards "developing policy and taking
action with concrete results". That is what is needed to secure the future.
Under Canada's chairmanship, there will be new initiatives on mental wellness, migratory birds,
science cooperation, climate-change adaptation and pollution that ahs short-lived effect on climate.
The last two are significant. One attempts to look forward and adapts to changes which scientists can
see coming. The other, a special task force to reduce black carbon and methane emissions
internationally, is the only hope the Arctic has to slow the pace of climate change. Separate
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