The Arctic Region

Arctic Governance

The Polar Law Textbook states that there is no universally recognised definition of “Arctic Governance.” This developing and evolving concept has been given multiple interpretations by the various stakeholders interested in the subject.

The legal discourse often links the concept of “governance” to the right to autonomy that is housed in the concept of self-determination. A number of elements pre-determined by the existing legal and political frameworks, socioeconomic and environmental predicaments and the activities of the various actors involved in Northern matters help shape Arctic governance”.

Focusing on cooperation, this section provides a brief overview – although not comprehensive - of International, regional, and subnational organizations that have a special role in addressing key issues in the region.

The Council
Arctic Council
Arctic Economic Council
Nordic Atlantic Cooperation
Nordic Council of Ministers
The Northern Forum
West Nordic Council
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The Arctic Council

The Arctic Council is the leading intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States, Arctic Indigenous communities, and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues, on issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic.

It was founded in 1996 with the signing of the Ottawa Declaration and its members are Canada, The Kingdom of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, United States of America.

The Arctic Council has no programming budget. All projects or initiatives are sponsored by one or more Arctic States. Some projects also receive support from other entities. The Arctic Council does not and cannot implement or enforce its guidelines, assessments, or recommendations. That responsibility belongs to each individual Arctic State.

The work of the Council is primarily carried out in six Working Groups

The Arctic Contaminants Action Program
Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program
The Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna
The Emergency Preventation, Prepardness and Response
The Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment
The Sustainable Development Working Group

The standing Arctic Council Secretariat formally became operational in 2013 in Tromsø, Norway. It was established to provide administrative capacity, institutional memory, enhanced communication and outreach and general support to the activities of the Arctic Council.

The Arctic Council regularly produces comprehensive, cutting-edge environmental, ecological and social assessments through its Working Groups. The Council has also provided a forum for the negotiation of three important legally binding agreements among the eight Arctic States. The first, the Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic, was signed in Nuuk, Greenland, at the 2011 Ministerial Meeting. The second, the Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic, was signed in Kiruna, Sweden, at the 2013 Ministerial meeting. The third, the Agreement on Enhancing International Arctic Scientific Cooperation, was signed in Fairbanks, Alaska at the 2017 Ministerial meeting.

The Permanent Participants

Six organizations representing Arctic Indigenous Peoples have the status of Permanent Participants at the Arctic Council. The Permanent Participants have full consultation rights in connection with the Council’s negotiations and decisions and represent a unique feature of the Arctic Council, making valuable contributions to its activities in all areas within the Council´s mandate. :

The following Indigenous Organization are the Council’s Permanent Participants

Aleut International Association
Arctic Athabaskan Council
Gwich’in Council International
Inuit Circumpolar Council
Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North
Saami Council
Saami Council

The Indigenous Peoples´ Secretariat (IPS)

The Indigenous Peoples' Secretariat is a support secretariat for all the Permanent Participants. The IPS assists with creating opportunities for the Permanent Participants to present their causes and helps provide them with necessary information and materials. Since 2016, the IPS office has been located in the Fram Centre in Tromsø, Norway.

Observer Status

Observer status in the Arctic Council is open to non-Arctic states, along with inter-governmental, inter-parliamentary, global, regional, and non-governmental organizations that the Council determines can contribute to its work. Arctic Council Observers primarily contribute through their engagement in the Council at the level of Working Groups.

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The Arctic Coast Guard Forum

The Arctic Coast Guard Forum (ACGF) is an independent, informal, operationally driven organization - not bound by treaty – whose role it is to foster safe, secure, and environmentally responsible maritime activity in the Arctic. All Arctic countries are members of the forum. Chairmanship duties of the ACGF rotate every two years in concert with the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council. Iceland was the chair for the Forum in 2019 - 2021.

The work of the ACGF is headed by the ACGF Chair and supported by the Secretariat and Working Groups. The Secretariat is responsible for implementing strategic direction and the smooth operation of the ACGF and its Working Groups. Working Groups are subordinate to the Secretariat. The Secretariat and Working Groups are organized in the direction of the principals and reflect issues relevant to member countries of the Arctic. The forum holds two annual meetings every year, which are organized by the chair country.

Strategic goals of the ACGF include strengthening multilateral cooperation and coordination; seeking common solutions to maritime issues; collaboration with the Arctic Council; facilitation of safe and secure maritime activity in the Arctic region: working collaboratively to advance the protection of the marine environment and maximizing the potential for Arctic maritime activities to positively impact the communities, lives, and culture of Arctic communities including Indigenous Peoples.

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The Arctic Economic Council

The Arctic Economic Council (AEC) is an independent organization that facilitates Arctic business-to-business activities and responsible economic development through the sharing of best practices, technological solutions, standards, and other information. The AEC was created by the Arctic Council during the 2013-2015 Canadian chairmanship and held its inaugural meeting in Iqaluit, Nunavut on September 2-3, 2014.

AEC's members represent a wide range of businesses operating in the Arctic—from mining and shipping companies to reindeer herding and Indigenous economic development corporations. Representing a variety of Arctic businesses, it is important for the AEC to also be the voice of small and medium sized enterprises. Local knowledge is often key in operating in the Arctic and the AEC provides an opportunity to access both local and Indigenous knowledge. The AEC Secretariat is in Tromsø, Norway.

AEC's work is to facilitate responsible business and economic development of the Arctic and its communities by sharing and advocating best practices, technological solutions, and standards. Its vision is to make the Arctic a favorable place to do business in addition to providing advice and a business perspective to the work of the Arctic Council.

The AEC is open to membership application from Arctic and sub-Arctic entities, corporations, partnerships, and Indigenous groups that have an economic interest in the Arctic.

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Icelandic Chairmanship and the Arctic Council (2019-2021): Together Towards a Sustainable Arctic

Sustainable development and protection of the Arctic environment have been at the core of the Arctic Council’s mandate since its foundation in 1996. With rapid environmental changes underway, its role has become ever more important.

The theme of the Arctic Council Chairmanship program for 2019-2021 reflected Iceland’s commitment to the principle of sustainable development and referred to the necessity of close cooperation between the states and peoples of the region and beyond. Emphasis was placed on effective mitigation and adaptation strategies required to address the adverse impacts of Arctic climate change, sustainable economic activities and on seeking balance between the three pillars of sustainable development – economic growth, social inclusion, and environmental protection.

The Icelandic Chairmanship Program continued supporting many ongoing activities of Working Groups and other subsidiary bodies, as well as introducing several new projects in the Arctic Council work plan for 2019-2021.

With sustainable development as an overarching theme, Iceland highlighted four priorities:

· The Arctic Marine Environment

· Climate and Green Energy Solutions

· People and Communities of the Arctic

· Stronger Arctic Council

The 12th Ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council marked the end of the two-year Icelandic Chairmanship term. It was held on the 20th May 2021 in Iceland and in spite of travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic was successfully executed. Ministers of the eight Arctic States convened with the leaders of the Indigenous Permanent Participants joined the meeting and the eight Foreign Ministers signed the Reykjavik Declaration. Further, marking the 25th anniversary of the Council, its first Strategic Plan was adopted, intended to guide the Council´s work for the next decade.