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.
Circumpolar Business Forum
The business community is increasingly looking to the circumpolar region to build diversified commercial relationships. There is a great deal of interest within the Council to increase the focus of its work on sustainable economic development. This is why Ministers at Kiruna established a new Task Force that will work with business to create a Circumpolar Business Forum.
The goals of the Forum include bringing circumpolar business perspectives to the work of the Council, advancing Arctic-oriented business interests, sharing best practices and developing closer cooperation. The initial focus of the Forum will be on extractive industries and related sectors, such as shipping and infrastructure.
Arctic Marine Oil Pollution Prevention
It is important that Arctic States take the necessary measures to protect the Arctic marine and terrestrial environment, local communities and traditional livelihoods from the possible impacts of resource development in the North.
The Kiruna Ministerial Meeting saw Arctic States sign the Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic. This is the second legally binding agreement to be negotiated under the auspices of the Council, the first being the Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic. This new agreement lays out the basis for cooperation and assistance in responding to marine oil pollution incidents in the Arctic region.
Building on the Council's past work, a new Task Force will develop an Action Plan to prevent marine oil pollution in the Arctic region.
Guidelines for Sustainable Tourism and Cruise Ship Operations in the Arctic
With the Arctic becoming more accessible, opportunities for tourism are growing. However, increased cruise ship traffic creates a new set of environmental and public safety challenges. The Council, in collaboration with cruise ship and tourist operators, will develop best practices and a set of guidelines for sustainable tourism, passenger safety and environmental protection.
Addressing Short-Lived Climate Pollutants and Adaptation to Climate Change
The Arctic is facing rapid changes in its climate and physical environment, with widespread effects on northern communities and ecosystems. At the Kiruna meeting, the Council released its second report on short-lived climate pollutants, which identified the substantial health and climate benefits that can be achieved by reducing these pollutants.
This scientific work will provide the basis for further action to address black carbon and methane emissions. A new Task Force will develop arrangements to achieve enhanced reductions of black carbon and methane emissions.
In addition to mitigation, the Council will also develop tools that enable decision makers to plan for adaptation to a changing climate and socio-economic conditions in the North.
Promoting Mental Wellness in Northern Circumpolar Communities
Change in the Arctic is impacting the way of life of indigenous communities and leading to difficult health and social issues. In response to these changes, the Council will evaluate which strategies and interventions are most effective with respect to mental health promotion and suicide prevention in circumpolar communities.
Incorporating Traditional and Local Knowledge and Promoting Traditional Ways of Life
Providing a voice to indigenous Arctic communities and respecting traditional and local knowledge are among the core values of the Council. During Canada's Chairmanship, the Council will focus on ways to better incorporate traditional and local knowledge in its work.
The Chairmanship will also support and showcase the value and importance of traditional ways of life for indigenous populations. By increasing awareness of these ways of life, decisions made outside the Arctic region may be better informed to avoid detrimental impacts on the culture, health, and well-being of the people of the Arctic.
Conservation of Migratory Birds
The Arctic Council will continue to pursue cooperation among Arctic and non-Arctic States to support the conservation of the migratory birds on which Northerners rely. The Council will work to map migration routes for key species and engage with countries along migratory routes to develop conservation strategies.
Enhancing Scientific Cooperation
Since the Council's establishment, it has promoted environmental protection and sustainable development based on collective scientific research. Scientific collaboration is particularly important at a time of increasing change in the Arctic and increased demand for research funding. A new Task Force will work to better strengthen scientific cooperation among Arctic States.
Strengthening the Arctic Council
The Arctic Council recently opened a new administrative Secretariat in Tromsø, Norway, to serve chairmanships and disseminate information on the Council's activities. The Secretariat will work to archive the Council's documents and make this wealth of knowledge accessible to the public and Northern decision makers.
Permanent Participants are an important and unique feature of the Arctic Council. The Chairmanship will identify ways to enhance the capacity of these organizations so that their involvement can keep pace with the Council's growing agenda.
Canada's Chairmanship will seek to raise awareness of the Council's contributions to the global community. It will encourage new approaches for increased coordination among Arctic States at other international organizations. Arctic Council States will continue to work closely together to encourage the development of a robust mandatory polar code for the Arctic Ocean at the International Maritime Organization.
Canadians look forward to hosting meetings of the Arctic Council over the next two years in Canada's stunning Arctic region and to showcasing its vibrant northern communities, cultures and stories.
Patrick Borbey is the Chair of the Arctic Council's Senior Arctic Officials (SAO) for the Canadian Chairmanship from 2013-2015. He is also the President of the Canadian Northern Development Agency (CanNor).