U.S. passes Arctic Council chairmanship to Finland
The chairmanship of the Arctic Council held by the United States for the past two years passed to Finland in a ceremony earlier this month at the 10th Ministerial Meeting in Fairbanks. Finland will chair the Council for two years of 2017-2019.
Very well, indeed, so what is the Arctic Council?
The Arctic Council evolved 20 years ago as a political frame for the eight arctic countries to cooperate in economic, social, cultural and scientific areas for protection of the Arctic environment. The Arctic Council formally came into being in 1996 with the signing of the Ottawa Declaration in Ottawa, Ontario, and brought along the Arctic Environment Protection Strategy. The Council comprises memberships of these countries: United States, Russian Federation, Greenland (Denmark), Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Canada. Alaska qualifies the United States to claim designation as an arctic country. Indigenous groups within the Arctic also belong.
Finland claims a great deal to offer arctic cooperation in terms of arctic-related expertise. Finland has several biological research stations in Lapland to study arctic ecology. The Arctic Centre, a separate institute connected to the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi, carries out interdisciplinary research on the effects of global changes and on the consequences resulting from the fact that man has disturbed the natural balance of arctic nature and arctic societies. The University of Oulu is a center for arctic medical sciences.
Indigenous northern peoples, including Alaskans, have Permanent Participant status in the Arctic Council. The category of Permanent Participant provides active participation and consultation with Arctic indigenous people. Six indigenous organizations include the Aleut International Association, the Arctic Athabaskan Council, Gwich’in Council International, the Inuit Circumpolar Council, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North and the Saami Council.
The Sami people who live in northern Finland engage in the work of the Arctic Council. Finland has the stated aim that Arctic cooperation will contribute to the improvement of the living conditions of the Sami and to their full integration into the sustainable development of the Arctic.
The Arctic Council has six working groups on concerns to interest Alaskans—arctic contaminants, conservation of arctic plants and animals, arctic monitoring and assessment program, emergency preparedness, prevention and response, protection of arctic marine environment, and a sustainable development working group.
The working groups execute projects under mandates of the Arctic Council Ministers.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson addressed the Arctic Council Ministerial meeting in Fairbanks on May 11. Tillerson in welcoming remarks spoke in generalities according to the transcript, but did mention global climate change in gliding over it:
“We look forward to working with Finland as they assume the leadership role of this council. There are still issues of great concern to each of us that we can address, including advancing the welfare and living conditions of those who call the Arctic home; recognizing that each country has a strategic interest in being part of the Arctic’s future; and making sure that we continue to be vigilant in protecting the fragile environment,” Tillerson said.
“In the United States, we are currently reviewing several important policies, including how the Trump administration will approach the issue of climate change. We are appreciative that each of you has an important point of view, and you should know that we are taking the time to understand your concerns. We’re not going to rush to make a decision. We’re going to work to make the right decision for the United States. The Arctic Council will continue to be an important platform as we deliberate on these issues.”
Tillerson noted Arctic Council accomplishments under United States leadership term from 2015-2017. These, again of interest to people of Western Alaska, include, in Tillerson’s words:
“The signing of the Agreement on Enhancing International Arctic Scientific Cooperation will facilitate the movement of scientists, scientific equipment, and importantly, data sharing across the international boundaries of the Arctic.
The Council has produced the first-ever assessment of telecommunications infrastructure in the Arctic. During the Finnish chairmanship, the Arctic Council will build on this work in conjunction with the private sector to advance this ongoing effort to strengthen connectivity throughout the Arctic Region.
Arctic Council members have conducted multiple exercises to prepare for potential search-and-rescue events in the Arctic as well as to coordinate responses to environmental incidents. These exercises significantly advanced our capacity to address risks inherent in the increased human activity that is undergoing and will continue to expand in the Arctic Region.
At the community level, the council broke new ground in a number of ways. A compelling initiative known as RISING SUN has produced resources that will prove truly valuable to Arctic residents in addressing suicide prevention, particularly among indigenous youth. The council also built on work initiated by the State of Alaska to improve water and sanitation capacity in rural Arctic communities.
As Arctic shipping continues to increase, the Council took a number of measures designed to ensure that such shipping remains safe and reliable, including the Arctic Ship Traffic Database that will improve our understanding of the ship traffic in the Arctic, including the number and types of vessels in the Arctic, their exact routing, and other important information.”
Timo Soini, foreign minister of Finland, noted that climate change needed the collective efforts of arctic countries where warming according to scientists is happening two to four times as fast as other places on the globe.
“The Arctic is becoming increasingly important for governments, businesses and non-governmental organizations. The reason is simple. We recognize that global warming is the main driver of change in the Arctic,” Soini said. “The challenges of melting sea ice, thawing permafrost and changes in eco-systems are complex. They cannot be solved one by one or in isolation.”
Vladimir Klimov traveled to Fairbanks for the Arctic Council Ministerial from the Russian Federation. Klimov shared some of the objectives held by indigenous people of Alaska. He represented one of the six Permanent Participant indigenous groups.
“My name is Vladimir Klimov, I am Mansi, and I came from the Tyumen Region of the Russian Federation,” Klimov began. “The Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON), Siberia and the Far East represents today 35 territorial and ethnic organizations of indigenous peoples, uniting 41 indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East.
“ We are a unique example of a community of indigenous peoples with distinct cultures, with a variety of Native languages and traditional economic activities, which are in many respects still based on our natural resources. Through our organizations and our institutions, we can work in close cooperation with the government of the Russian Federation, while preserving our independence and the opportunity to defend our opinion on certain issues that relate to the realization of the interests of our peoples,” Klimov said.
Tyumen is a district covering half a million square miles in the heart of historic Siberia. The administrative center is the city Tyumen, established in 1586, the first settlement in Siberia. The Mansi indigenous people number 12,269 in Russia, according to the 2010 census.
The theme of the U.S. Chairmanship Program has been “One Arctic: Shared responsibilities, challenges and responsibilities.” Finland has selected a similar theme for its chairmanship: “Exploring common solutions.”
The chairmanship will pass to Iceland when Finland finishes its two-year chairmanship in 2019.