Arctic Council

The Arctic Council was formally established in 1996 as the leading intergovernmental forum to promote cooperation amongst countries in the region, and it involves the Arctic inhabitants and indigenous people on common issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic. 

Latest – As of January 2021, Iceland is the current chair of the Arctic Council and India has an observer status. Russia will take the chair from 2021 to 2023. The chairmanship rotates amongst the member states every two years.

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Arctic Council and the Arctic States

  • The first step towards the formation of the Council occurred in 1991 when the eight Arctic countries signed the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS).
  • The Ottawa Declaration established the Arctic Council as a forum for promoting cooperation, coordination, and interaction amongst the Arctic states, with the involvement of the Arctic Indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on issues such as sustainable development and environmental protection.
  • The Arctic Council has conducted studies on climate change, oil and gas, and Arctic shipping.
  • In 2011, the Council member states concluded the Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement, the first binding treaty concluded under the Council’s auspices.

When was the Arctic Council formed?

The Arctic Council was created with the signing of the Ottawa Declaration on 19 September 1996 in Canada. India got the observer status at the Kiruna Ministerial Meeting in 2013.

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Members of Arctic Council

As per the Ottawa declaration, the following eight countries are the Members of the Council. They include:

  1. Canada
  2. Denmark
  3. Finland
  4. Iceland
  5. Norway
  6. Russia
  7. Sweden
  8. United States

The eight States have territories within the Arctic and thus carry the role of stewards of the region. Their national jurisdictions and international law govern the lands surrounding the Arctic Ocean and its waters. The Northern provinces of the Arctic States offer a home to more than four million people, whose health and well-being is on the top of the Arctic Council’s agenda.

What is the goal of the Arctic Council?

The main goal of Arctic Council is to promote various levels of cooperation, coordination among the Arctic States, indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on the common Arctic to discuss and resolve issues on sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic.

The major focus areas of the Arctic Council are

  • Environment and climate change
  • Biodiversity
  • Oceans
  • The indigenous Arctic people

The Ottawa Declaration explicitly excludes any military security, and the Arctic Council is a forum with no enforcement powers. The projects and work are sponsored and carried out by member states or other entities.

Who is the Arctic Council?

The Arctic Council comprises:

  • Arctic States – 8 – They implement policy in the Arctic region
  • Permanent Participants – 6 – associations of indigenous groups in the Arctic region
  • Working Groups – 6 – They carry out the council’s activities
  • Observers – 38 – Non-Arctic countries, NGOs and other organisations who share their expertise

Know more about the Arctic Council at their official website – https://arctic-council.org/en/

At the 2013 Ministerial Meeting in Kiruna, Sweden, the European Union (EU) requested full observer status. It was not granted, mostly because the members do not agree on the EU ban on hunting seals.

Role of Arctic Council Observers

  • The status of Observers is only applicable for the non-Arctic states, Inter-governmental and Inter-Parliamentary Organisations, Global and Regional; and Non-Governmental Organisations that the Council determines can contribute to its work.
  • India also is one of the observers of the Arctic Council. Given below is the role of the Arctic Council Observers:
    • They shall be a part of all Council meetings once they attain the status of an Observer
    • The Observers need to give their contributions and engage in observing their work, mainly through the Working Groups
    • The Observers must respect the values, interests, culture and traditions of the Arctic inhabitants 
    • The financial contributions made by the Observers must not exceed the limit set by the Council and States
    • They need to demonstrate political and financial ability to assist the Permanent Participants and other Arctic indigenous peoples
  • Pending observer states are the European Union and Turkey.
  • The role of observers was re-evaluated, as were the criteria for admission. As a result, the distinction between permanent and ad hoc observers was dropped.

Working Groups of Arctic Council

The decision regarding any major issue is taken only after consensus among the eight-member countries of the Arctic Council. 

Based on the mechanism of the Arctic Council, there are six Working Groups that carry out the work of the council. Discussed below are these six Working Groups in brief:

  1. Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) – Its function is monitoring the environment, ecosystem and human population of the Arctic circle and suggesting scientific measures for climatic control
  2. Conservation of Arctic Flora & Fauna (CAFF) – Works for the conservation of the Arctic living organism and biodiversity 
  3. Emergency Prevention, Preparedness & Response (EPPR) – Protection of accidental release of pollutants in the Arctic
  4. Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) – Works for protection of Arctic Marine environment
  5. Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG) – Improvisation and protection of Arctic communities as a whole
  6. Arctic Contaminants Action Program (ACAP) – This works for reducing the emission and pollutants released

India and the Arctic

  • The Arctic region is rich in minerals and oils and the Council does not restrict any other country to exploit the Arctic resources, only if it does not harm the environment and is done in a sustainable manner.
  • Another reason for countries getting involved in investing in the Arctic region is the melting ice due to global warming, which is opening up shipping routes for easy trade. India, being one of the observers, has also started their expeditions in the Arctic area.
  • India had launched its first scientific expedition to the Arctic Ocean in 2007 to carry out researches in Glaciology, Atmospheric sciences & Biological sciences. A research base was set up at International Arctic Research Base at Ny-Alesund, Svalbard, Norway in July 2008 and was named ‘Himadri’.
  • The Ministry of Earth Sciences had renamed the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research to the National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research in 2018. This body is responsible for research activities at the stations at the poles.

Other important objectives of the Arctic expedition by India include:

  • India’s reasons for Arctic expedition are both environmental and scientific
  • Analysis of the sediment and ice core records from the Arctic glaciers and the Arctic Ocean
  • Characterisation of sea ice in the Arctic using satellite data to analyse its effect on global warming 
  • Analysis of the flora and fauna of the Arctic region
  • To conduct research based on the hypothesized teleconnections between the Arctic climate and the Indian monsoon

Frequently Asked Questions on Arctic Council

Q 1. Who chairs the Arctic Council?

Ans. The Chairmanship of the Arctic Council rotates every two years among the Arctic States. The first country to chair the Arctic Council was Canada (1996-1998).

Q 2. What is the function of the Arctic Council?

Ans. It is a leading intergovernmental forum that promotes cooperation and coordination among all the Arctic states. Its main objective is sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic.

Q 3. How many states are in the Arctic Council?

Ans. There are eight states in the Arctic Council. It includes Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States.

Q 4. When did the Arctic Council Secretariat become operational?

Ans. The Arctic Council Secretariat formally became operational in 2013 in Norway.

UPSC 2021

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