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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.
New Directions for Governance in the Arctic Region
Heather Exner-Pirot
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.
The 2011 Arctic Council Ministerial in Nuuk, Greenland marked a watershed in the circumpolar
region’s political history. For the first time in the Arctic Council’s fifteen-year existence, the eight
member states signed a legally binding agreement, the
Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and
Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic
. Furthermore, the Arctic states agreed to establish a Permanent
Secretariat for the Arctic Council in order to strengthen its capacity to respond to the challenges and
opportunities it now faces. The Council is currently working on additional instruments by which to
regulate the Arctic Ocean, including the development of a mandatory Polar Code for ships through
the International Maritime Organization (IMO), an international instrument on Arctic marine oil
pollution preparedness and response, and through recommendations for ecosystem-based oceans
management stemming from an Arctic Ocean Review that will be completed in 2013.