The need to enhance environmental impact assessment in the Arctic is today more topical than ever before due to manifold plans, strategies and activities for exploitation that have intensively been developed. Rapidly evolving technologies and the warming of the climate raise new opportunities to use Arctic natural resources, maritime and land areas. The Arctic Council’s role to facilitate circumpolar collaboration for ensuring that the ongoing and future development in the Arctic will take place in a sustainable manner is key. Here, an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process that is targeted to the Arctic context plays an important role.
This is not, however, the first time that the need for collaboration on environmental impact assessment has been on the Arctic agenda. Let’s look back some twenty-five years ago. We lived in a time when the Soviet Union was in its last years and Mikhail Gorbachev was preparing for his presidency of the Union. In his speech in Murmansk (September 1987) Gorbachev raised the issue that environmental issues are something that all Arctic countries share and that putting efforts together would be beneficial to all. This was a smart step to open difficult political discussions in the circumpolar north with a neutral theme that everyone shared and required collaborative actions to solve.
After more than three years of work, on July 8, 2016 in Ottawa, a Task Force under the Arctic Council reached ad referendum agreement on a new legally-binding agreement among the eight Arctic States that will help reduce obstacles to scientific cooperation in the Arctic. This is an important milestone for the Council, in part because fostering science is one of the most important practical objectives of the Council and this agreement is a major step forward for the Arctic States in that respect. But it is also quite significant because it is the third legally-binding agreement achieved under Arctic Council auspices. The signing of the agreement by each of the foreign ministers of the Arctic States will be one of the key events associated with the next Arctic Council Ministerial meeting.
The Arctic Council is a high level forum established among Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States in 1996 to focus on environmental protection and sustainable development. As the importance of the Arctic in international policy and diplomacy has grown over the past twenty years, the Council has taken on new challenges. The prior legally-binding instruments negotiated under the Council were the Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic (2011) and the Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic (2009). The latest one, related to science cooperation, will take the Council another step in the direction of being more than a body that facilitates discussion and towards involvement in establishment of legal norms and activities of a regulatory character.
Erica M. Dingman
The Arctic Council has earned a noteworthy reputation as an institution that exemplifies the ideals of cooperation and inclusion. As a consensus-based forum, the motions adopted amongst Arctic states with the political participation of indigenous peoples is a testament to the Council’s democratic practices. As an aspect of the present U.S. Arctic Council Chairmanship strategy (2015-2017), these ideals were recently extended to promote the development of domestic and cross-border public-private partnerships. Outlined in the Implementation Plan for the National Strategy for the Arctic Region (White House, 2014), the purpose is to leverage private investment into the Arctic region to address the shortage of maritime infrastructure, telecommunications, and for development of renewable energy projects. The U.S.-Canada Joint Statement on Climate, Energy and Arctic Leadership (White House, 2016a) emphasized the later, calling for the ‘advancement of clean growth’. Shortly thereafter, U.S. and Nordic leaders announced in a Joint Statement (White House, 2016b) a shared commitment for ‘shifting to low carbon economies’ and acceleration of a ‘transition to a clean energy future’ acknowledging the impact of climate change specifically in the Arctic region. Leaders recognize that private sector partnerships are a fundamental requirement to achieve such lofty goals.
One year ago, for the Arctic Yearbook 2015, I wrote a commentary entitled “The Arctic Council Permanent Participants: Capacity & Support – Past, Present, & Future.” In that piece I looked at the history of the Permanent Participants (PPs) and the discussion that has taken place since the founding of the Arctic Council (AC) in the Ottawa Declaration on how best to support the work of the PPs. That every Ministerial Declaration since Ottawa has mentioned PP capacity and support is testimony to the value that the PPs bring to the work of the AC and to the problem of how best to support these small organizations that are faced with an ever increasing workload as the AC grows in responsibility and importance.
One year ago I also wrote about a process that the PPs have initiated to address how to increase capacity and contribute to more of the work of the AC. This process, to establish a PP funding mechanism, has achieved considerable progress in both vision and technical detail, and the remainder of this piece will summarize what has transpired in the last year.
The establishment of the Arctic Council in 1996 allowed not only the 8 Arctic countries but also many countries situated southward, as well as international organizations, to combine efforts in the coordination of international and external economic relations in the Arctic region, which is of exceptional significance in shaping the global climate and has huge reserves of natural resources, primarily hydrocarbons.
Over the course of twenty years, the Arctic Council has provided a quite clear platform for discussing the issues related to the countries’ interests. New areas of testing cooperation, approaches and methods of joint work has appeared, and working groups on specific themes, interesting to all stakeholders, have been formed.
At the same time, the Arctic Council still doesn’t have a clear-cut answer to the possibility of engaging sub-regional partners to their full potential; all its activity has been aimed at the development and enhancement of inter-state cooperation. This article discusses the importance of involving sub-regional governments in global international cooperation in the Arctic.
Interest in Arctic issues, development activities and climate change has been growing in the past few years. This has been easy to notice also at the regional and local level in different agendas. The work of the Arctic Council has been active between Arctic countries, having also a strong emphasis on indigenous people’s affairs.
You might ask the question why the role of regions and cities has been so weak, even though operational implementation of programs and strategies always is made on these levels in practice. Regions and cities have a lot to offer for Arctic cooperation. I have my own experiences from working in the State Office of Lapland, Regional Council of Lapland and City of Rovaniemi in Finland.
The city of Rovaniemi is crossed by the Arctic Circle, so that most of its surface area is above it. Today it is a dynamic, growing city by population and business. The number of inhabitants is about 62,000. Rovaniemi is the fifth largest Arctic city. The science and applied science universities of Lapland are major educational institutes with almost 10,000 students. The city is also home to units of the main national research institutes of natural resources. These form a strong base for research and development activities in many issues related to know-how of Arctic conditions. So it is not only the location on the Arctic Circle that gives it the status of Finland’s Arctic Capital City.