The signing of the Arctic SAR (Search and Rescue) Agreement and establishment of a Permanent Secretariat for the Arctic Council at the 2011 Nuuk Ministerial marked a move from a soft to hard law approach to governing the Arctic region. This article examines the events that led to acceptance of a more robust governance framework, involving climate changes leading to greater economic activity and geopolitical interest in the Arctic. It goes on to evaluate the spectrum of possible governance frameworks for the Arctic region, from the Ilulissat approach to a regional seas agreement to an Arctic Treaty, and examines issue-areas that are most likely to result in a legally binding instrument in the short-to-medium term. The article concludes by suggesting that limitations to the scope and intensity of potential regional governance frameworks in the Arctic make it likely that a regional seas agreement will be the end point of regional governance measures, at which point Arctic environmental issues could be de-securitized and dealt with as part of a normal, political and bureaucratic order.
Heather Exner-Pirot is Post-Doctoral Fellow at the International Centre for Northern Governance and Development and Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan.