On May 15, 2013, at the Ministerial Meeting in Kiruna, Sweden, Canada assumed the two-year Chairmanship of the Arctic Council for the second time since its creation in 1996.
More than four million people call the Arctic region home. In developing initiatives to bring to the Council for consensus decision, the Government of Canada consulted with Northerners and with its Arctic partners. A clear message was that the people of the North should be at the centre of the Arctic Council's priorities.
The theme for Canada's Chairmanship is "Development for the People of the North," with three sub-themes to guide the Council's work: "Responsible Arctic Resource Development," "Safe Arctic Shipping," and "Sustainable Circumpolar Communities." Inspired by these themes, Ministers in Kiruna endorsed the following new initiatives.
Lawson W. Brigham
The Arctic Council, intergovernmental forum of the eight Arctic states, has been a positive force for good since its 1996 creation by the Ottawa Declaration. Fostering Arctic state cooperation, engaging with Arctic indigenous residents, and conducting world-class assessments on climate change, hydrocarbons, shipping, and pollution, the Council has been surprisingly forward looking in its work. But it also has been a sometimes cautious, tentative body, challenged to reach consensus on several key issues and lacking in effective, external communications. Heightened global attention on the top of the world and increasing complexity of Arctic issues demand even more thoughtful deliberations and proactive action from this body. Canada, who succeeded Sweden as the Council's Chair this past May, faces a broad array of challenges unanticipated at the inception of the Council.
Why does Greenland receive approximately 25 million euros per year from the European Union, despite the fact that it is not even one of its members? At the same time, the government of Greenland continuously threatens to prioritize China over Europe, regardless of the generous money it receives from Brussels under the Partnership Agreement between the EU, Denmark and Greenland. And why was the European Union's application for observer status at the Arctic Council deferred this spring?
At first glance, the European Union almost seems to be losing its grip on the Arctic agenda. Although a key supporter of the region, the EU's effort to play any key role in the Arctic has fallen short of expectations.
In 2009, Greenland got Self Rule within the Kingdom of Denmark. This upgraded status from Home Rule is seen as the last stage before a possible independence from Denmark. Time shows however that there is still a long way to go before thinking about independence: amongst other challenges, Greenland's economic situation is not going well, unemployment is high and expected large scale projects take time to be concretised.
In the most optimistic forecast, it would require several decades before Greenland can seriously think about becoming a state. That said, the longer Greenland will wait to develop and make necessary reforms such as an important reduction of public expenses, which in a report from 2010 accounted for about 75% of Greenland's GDP (NIRAS, 2010), the more difficult it will be for Greenland to 'safely' take the Arctic 'motorway' (where things go fast) alone [without the Danish 'driving instructor' or 'co-driver' as the Self Rule Act talks about 'equal partners' (Lov om Grønlands Selvstyre, 2009)], as an independent state. Simply because the Arctic will have become too important to take the risk of being a weak, or at least a too vulnerable state, by going faster in the state-building process.
The first meeting of the Arctic Circle grouping (or more accurately a 'new assembly for international co-operation on Arctic issues') will take place in the Icelandic city of Reykjavik in October 2013. I won't be able to attend so will have to console myself with a more virtual presence. Looking at the official website (http://www.arcticcircle.org/), and monitoring the tweets from the official twitter site of the Arctic Circle grouping (https://twitter.com/ArcticSummit), it would appear that preparations are mounting for this autumnal meeting. What might this 'assembly' achieve and why might it matter? This short commentary offers some tentative answers.
We should remind ourselves, firstly, of the published mission statement of this grouping before reviewing the background to its creation. The rationale for the 'assembly' is described in the following terms:
Heather Exner-Pirot and Joël Plouffe
Circumpolar relations have been nothing if not trendy in recent years. First came the domino sequence of Arctic strategies from each of the Arctic states between 2008-2011. This was succeeded by a rash of Arctic Ambassadorial appointments, with Japan's appointment of Masuo Nishibayashi in March, 2013, making eleven (click here for Arctic Yearbook 2012's list of Arctic/Non-Arctic ambassadors). But the most recent inclination has been to establish pan-Arctic forums, focusing on the 'future of the Arctic', and open to a global audience of self-appointed Arctic stakeholders.
The most high profile launch of this new breed of circumpolar organization is the Arctic Circle, Icelandic President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson's vision of an open, global platform by which to address the region's most pressing issues. Uniting a motley crew of oil and shipping executives, climate advocates, Asian scientists and a European monarch – Prince Albert II of Monaco – the Arctic Circle is a response to the perceived parochialism of the Arctic Council and an attempt to create a space for a diverse range of interested voices (see Klaus Dodds' commentary in this volume).