Arctic Council: Everything you need to know about

The Arctic Council is an 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.

Arctic Council: The Background

Arctic Council

  • The Arctic Council was founded on the initiative of the Government of Finland in September 1989 where officials from the 8 Arctic Countries met in Rovaniemi, Finland, to discuss cooperative measures to protect the Arctic environment.
  • The initiative resulted in numerous technical and scientific reports being prepared, culminating in the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (June 1991) – a declaration on the protection of Arctic environment.
  • Through this cooperation, the Arctic Council formed with the signing of the Ottawa Declaration on 19 September 1996 in Ottawa, Canada.

The focus areas of the Arctic Council

The main focus areas of the Arctic Council are:

  1. The Environment and climate change.
  2. Bio-diversity.
  3. Oceans.
  4. The indigenous Arctic peoples.

The participants of the Arctic Council

The participants of the Arctic Council are:

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  1. Governments of the eight member states.
  2. The Permanent Participants PPS.
  3. Working Groups.
  4. Observers.

The members of the Arctic Council

The members of the Arctic Council are:

  1. Canada.
  2. Denmark.
  3. Finland.
  4. Iceland.
  5. Norway.
  6. Russia
  7. The USA.

The Permanent Participants

The Six additional organisations to represent Arctic indigenous peoples have status as permanent participants. This category was created to provide for active participation and representation of the indigenous peoples.  They include:

  1. Aleut International Association
  2. The Arctic Athabaskan Council.
  3. Gwich’in Council International.
  4. The Inuit Circumpolar Council.
  5. Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North.
  6. The Saami Council.

Working Groups

The work of the Arctic Council is channelled through six working groups. They are:

(1) Arctic Contaminants Action Program (ACAP)

The ACAP acts as a strengthening and supporting mechanism to encourage national actions to reduce emissions and other releases of pollutants.

(2) Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP)

The AMAP monitors the Arctic environment, ecosystems and human populations, and provides scientific advice to support governments as they tackle pollution and adverse effects of climate change.

(3) The Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna Working Group (CAFF)

The CAFF addresses the conservation of Arctic biodiversity, working to ensure the sustainability of the Arctic’s living resources.

(4) The Emergency Prevention, Preparedness, and Response Working Group (EPPR)

The EPPR works to protect the Arctic environment from the threat or impact of an accidental release of pollutants or radionuclides.

(5) The Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME)

The PAME Working Group is the focal point of the Arctic Council’s activities related to the protection and sustainable use of the Arctic marine environment.

(6) The Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG)

The SDWG works to advance sustainable development in the Arctic and to improve the conditions of Arctic communities as a whole.

Note: The Council may also establish Task Forces or Expert Groups to carry out specific work. Decisions of the Arctic Council are taken by consensus among the eight the Arctic Council States, with consideration of the reports and recommendations of the working groups and with the full consultation and involvement of the Permanent Participants representing indigenous groups.

Observers in the Arctic Council

  • The Observer status in the Arctic Council is granted to non-arctic states, intergovernmental and inter-parliamentary organisations and other global and regional non-governmental organisations.
  • The observer country is invited to the meetings of the council and observes the work and proceedings of the council. In meetings, with the permission of the chair, observers may make statements, submit relevant documents and provide their perspective on various issues. While observers may propose projects through an Arctic State of the permanent participant, financial contributions to a project cannot exceed financing from the Arctic States unless declared by the SAOs.
  • There are currently 12 non-arctic countries, nine intergovernmental and Inter-Parliamentary Organisations and 11 non-governmental organisations that have been granted observer status in the Arctic Council.

Twelve Non-Arctic countries that have an approved Observer Status

Observer Country  Name of the Meeting in which observer Status granted            Year
1. France Barrow Ministerial meeting 2000
2. Germany Iqaluit Ministerial meeting  1998*
3. Netherlands Iqaluit Ministerial meeting  1998*
4. Poland Iqaluit Ministerial meeting  1998*
6. UK Iqaluit Ministerial meeting  1998*
  5. Spain Salekhard Ministerial meeting 2006
  7. China Kiruna Ministerial meeting 2013
8. Italy Kiruna Ministerial meeting 2013
9. Japan Kiruna Ministerial meeting 2013
10. Korea Kiruna Ministerial meeting 2013
11. Singapore Kiruna Ministerial meeting 2013
12. India Kiruna Ministerial meeting 2013

* Also present at the signing ceremony” in Ottawa 19 September, 1996.

Nine Intergovernmental and Inter-Parliamentary Organisations that have an approved observer status

Name of the Organization  Name of the Meeting in which observer Status granted        Year
1. International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Barrow Ministerial meeting 2000
2. International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Barrow Ministerial meeting 2000
3. Nordic Council of Ministers (NCM)  Iqaluit Ministerial meeting 1998*
4. Nordic Environment Finance Corporation (NEFCO) Reykjavik Ministerial meeting 2004
5. North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission (NAMMCO) Barrow Ministerial meeting 2000
   6. Standing Committee of the Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region (SCPAR)  Iqaluit Ministerial meeting 1998*
   7. United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN-ECE)  Iqaluit Ministerial meeting 1998*
8. United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Inari Ministerial meeting 2002
9. United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)  Iqaluit Ministerial meeting 1998*

* Also present at the signing ceremony” in Ottawa 19 September 1996.

Eleven Non-governmental organisations are approved observers in the Arctic Council 

Name of the Organization Name of the Meeting in which observer Status granted     Year
1. Advisory Committee on Protection of the Seas (ACOPS) Barrow Ministerial meeting 2000*
2. Arctic Institute of North America (AINA) (Formerly Arctic Cultural Gateway (ACG)) Reykjavik Ministerial meeting ( As: Arctic Circumpolar Route) 2004
3. Association of World Reindeer Herders (AWRH) Barrow Ministerial meeting 2000
4. Circumpolar Conservation Union (CCU) Barrow Ministerial meeting 2000
5. International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) Iqaluit Ministerial meeting 1998*
   6. International Arctic Social Sciences Association (IASSA) Barrow Ministerial meeting 2000
   7. International Union for Circumpolar Health (IUCH) Iqaluit Ministerial meeting 1998*
8. International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) Inari Ministerial meeting 2002
9. Northern Forum (NF) Iqaluit Ministerial meeting 1998
10. University of the Arctic (UArctic) Inari Ministerial meeting 2002
11. World Wide Fund for Nature-Global Arctic Program (WWF) Iqaluit Ministerial meeting 1998*

* Also present at the signing ceremony” in Ottawa 19 September 1996.

What are the criteria for selecting Observers?

The general suitability of an applicant for the selection of observer status in the Council are based on the extent which the observer:

  1. Accept and support the objectives of the Arctic Council defined in the Ottawa declaration.
  2. Recognise Arctic States’ sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the Arctic.
  3. Recognise that an extensive legal framework applies to the Arctic Ocean including, notably, the Law of the Sea, and that this framework provides a solid foundation for responsible management of this ocean.
  4. Respect the values, interests, culture and traditions of Arctic indigenous peoples and other Arctic inhabitants.
  5. Have demonstrated a political willingness as well as financial ability to contribute to the work of the Permanent Participants and other Arctic indigenous peoples.
  6. Have demonstrated their Arctic interests and expertise relevant to the work of the Arctic Council.
  7. Have demonstrated a concrete interest and ability to support the work of the Arctic Council, including through partnerships with member states and Permanent Participants bringing Arctic concerns to global decision-making bodies.

What is India’s role in the Arctic Council?

Role of India in Arctic Council

India was granted the observer status at the Kiruna Ministerial Meeting on May 15, 2013. In becoming an observer, India had to agree to the following criteria set by the Council:

  1. To recognise the sovereign rights of Arctic states.
  2. To recognise that the Law of the Sea and the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, constitute the legal basis and the legal framework within which the Arctic will be managed.
  3. To respect indigenous peoples, local cultures and traditions.
  4. To respect indigenous peoples, local cultures and traditions.
  5. To be able to contribute to the work of the Arctic Council.
  • India has therefore officially recognised the territorial jurisdiction and sovereign rights of the Arctic states. India has also accepted the UNCLOS as the governing instrument for the Arctic implying that jurisdiction over both the continental shelf and maritime passage, and the resources of the ocean will primarily lay with the eight Arctic States. India has, therefore, no more room to argue that the region is treated in the same manner as the Antarctica. China has lost no time in positioning itself through a number of asset acquisitions in several Arctic states, in particular, Russia and Canada.
  • However, what is worrying is that ecological protection, the main reason behind establishing the council has now been trumped by economic factors. India and other developing nations must put the Arctic as an important part of their agenda on climate change negotiations.

Points to Remember

  • The Ottawa Declaration lists the members of the Arctic Council. Only those countries that are located in the Arctic region are eligible for membership.
  • The location of the Secretariat was rotated biennially with the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council. Currently, the Arctic Council Secretariat became formally operational in 2013 in Tromso, Norway.
  • The Chairmanship of the Arctic Council is rotated every two years once. The first country to chair the Arctic Council was Canada (1996-1998). Finland will be the current chair of the Arctic Council (from 2017-2019).
  • The decisions, recommendations or guidelines of the Arctic Council are non-enforceable and strictly the prerogative of the individual state.
  • The Arctic Council mandate explicitly excludes military security as per the Ottawa Declaration as per the explanation to clause 1(a).
  • The Arctic Council does not have a fund or a program. All contributions are made voluntarily by the respective member states.
  • The first Ministerial Meeting was held from 17th to 18th September 1998, Iqaluit, Canada.

Article by: Manasvini Mukund

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