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Arctic Yearbook 2012
development should be encouraged but needs to be sustainable; and indigenous peoples should be
included in decision-making. Most notably, the eight Arctic states agreed to a legally binding
instrument – an Arctic Council first
– on SAR. The
Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and
Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic
was signed by the eight Arctic states on May 12, 2011. The
is not groundbreaking from a legal perspective; it does not affect the domestic legislation
of circumpolar states, nor does it oblige states to enhance their assets or acquire new resources. But
it is hugely symbolic, heralding possibilities for much more robust governance of the region. The call
to establish a Permanent Secretariat (in Norway) at the same meeting reinforced the idea that the
Arctic states are newly accepting of a level of authority from the Arctic Council that has previously
been unknown. The presence of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Nuuk – the first time the
Americans were represented at that level – indicated that the traditional American reluctance to grant
the forum a formal or legal role was now over, particularly when the American delegation
spearheaded the call for an Arctic Council task force to develop an international instrument on
Arctic marine oil pollution preparedness and response (Nunatsiaq News, 2011).
It thus seems that the Arctic has evolved beyond the unilateral/bilateral, as well as the Ilulissat
approach, and is now working within a piecemeal approach.
Future Venues for Multilateral Cooperation
With the Arctic states now looking ready to accept more institutionalized cooperation in the region,
what issue areas are most likely to result in legally binding instruments in the short to medium term?
This section briefly outlines the most likely candidates.
The most consequential international agreement set to be established in the Arctic in the short term
is the Polar Code – specifically, an
International Code of Safety for Ships Operating in Polar Waters
that is
being developed under the auspices of the IMO with the goal of ensuring safety of life and
protection of the environment in the world's polar waters. A set of voluntary guidelines was agreed
upon in December 2002, and updated in 2009. However as shipping traffic has risen, and looks set
to continue to rise, a need to regulate construction; equipment; operations (including crewing); and
environmental protection and damage control has been deemed necessary to account for the difficult
conditions that exist in polar waters.