Arctic Council news – and why it matters

Photo: Linnea Nordström, from the Arctic Council press kit

Photo: Linnea Nordström, from the Arctic Council’s Kiruna, Sweden meeting press kit

Canada and the U.S. are among the small number of nations that directly border the Arctic region. It’s a short list of just eight that includes Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Russia.

World-wide interest over the transportation and resource potential of the Arctic is growing by leaps and bounds. The stakes are high – especially for the area’s ecological health and actual inhabitants of that cross-border region.

So here’s a round-up of news related to something called the Arctic Council, the body that tries to set and regulate policy for the Arctic.

This week, leaders from many nations will gather in Kiruna, Sweden for an  important session of the Arctic Council. The council’s rotating leadership will pass from Sweden to Canada.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will attend. The New York Times published two op-ed this week about why the subject matters. The first “Northern Beacon” was penned by Sweden’s foreign minister, Carl Bildt, who says:

…when the Arctic Council meets in Kiruna in northern Sweden in the next few days, it is a rare example of a framework set up to deal with events well before they really start to happen, thus making it possible to shape events rather than reacting to things that have already gone wrong.

The second op-ed “Hands Across the Melting Ice” was written by a trio of Arctic experts who caution that Wednesday’s “ministerial meeting of the council in Sweden will face urgent issues dealing with the environment, shipping and governance.”

Science Daily says a main concern is the fragile region’s vulnerability to spills or other ecological upsets.

This Toronto Star article “Canada to take helm of Arctic Council beginning Wednesday” discusses the internal and external implications of Canada returning to a 2-year revolving post last held back in 1998. According to the Star:

Leona Aglukkaq, Harper’s minister in charge of northern economic development, did not respond to an interview request. But she told The Canadian Press that Ottawa’s focus on development — including the creation of an arctic business forum — won’t distract from other priorities.

“What I’m proposing is a trade show forum, a business forum of Arctic to Arctic, an opportunity for private industry to exchange information on best practices on permafrost, on shipping, all of that,” she told The Canadian Press.

British Columbia based Tyee had more on this topic “Business to have role in Arctic debates, says Aglukkaq

Aglukkaq — an Inuk from Gjoa Haven, Nunavut — said it’s time the council addressed the immediate concerns of northerners.

“We can do science and research but if we’re going to make fully informed decisions we have to ask industry how are we doing? I feel we have to close that gap.”

The resource rush is already changing many Arctic communities.

Writing about “Arctic Council heads to Kiruna next week” the Norway-based Barents Observer says the northern Swedish town of Kiruna exemplifies some of these forces of change: resource extraction, toursim and the needs of traditional people.

Today, the underground mine in Kiruna—the largest of its kind in the world—produces about 76,000 tons of ore every day, according to the LKAB website. Or, enough to fill up a 12-story building.

But Kiruna is becoming increasingly well known for more than what it digs out of the ground. It neighbours the Esrange Space Centre, a rocket range and research centre. It has a healthy tourism industry and well known hotels. It’s driving distance to several protected areas, including Abisko national park. And of course, the area it occupies is part of the traditional home of the Sami people, who have raised major concerns about the impact of increased activity—iron mining in particular—on the grazing range of the reindeer they depend on.

According to the UK’s Guardian a key question being discussed is “…whether to allow 14 countries including China and India as well as the European Union a say in deciding the future of the region by granting them observer status in the Arctic Council”.

 The article describe the debate thusly:

Nordic countries would like to internationalise the Arctic; Russia and Canada, which control more territory in the region, are opposed. Obama, it turns out, may still be on the fence.

Looking for what I’ll call local views on the Council’s summit this week, I found this from Nunatsiaq on line:

[MLAs = Members of the Legislative Assembly]

Nunavut MLAs say they don’t want the Arctic Council to admit the European Union into their international forum as an observer and they want Canada to “firmly, publicly and vigorously oppose the European Union’s application for permanent observer status at the Arctic Council.”

The EU’s ban on things like seal pelts is unpopular in Canadian native and northern communities. Here’s more on that:

The EU ban on seal products, which came into effect Aug. 20, 2010, offers an exemption to furs hunted traditionally by Inuit from Canada and Greenland, but bars them from large-scale commerce in skins, oils or meat in its member nations. It’s still not clear how this exemption would work and if any producers in Canada or Greenland will ever use it.

Hudson Bay MLA Alan Rumbolt said that because of the seal products ban, people in Sanikiluaq are having trouble providing for their families, and he commended his colleagues for standing up and supporting the May 9 motion asking for the EU to be denied observer status at the Arctic Council.

Major changes have already come to the Arctic with more on the way. The shape of future change will largely be decided through decisions made by the Arctic Council.

By the way, if you are deeply interested in this week’s sessions in Kiruna, some of them will be streamed on line, including the main May 15th session.

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5 Responses to “Arctic Council news – and why it matters”

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  1. JDM says:

    Now that it’s finally warming up this Spring, it’s safe to bring out the global-warming issues.

    What a bunch of losers.

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  2. Lucy Martin says:

    Well, I don’t think I framed this as a global warming scare tactic, at least that was not my intention.

    Setting aside what caused changes in the Arctic (humans or nature?) here are some facts: there’s a high likelihood that new shipping routes and more resource extraction is coming to the region. That alone makes the area important to the rest of the world.

    My own preference would be to stay out of natural areas and leave them alone. Since that’s unlikely, the next best thing might be agreements that prevent conflict and the worst ecological abuses.

    The Arctic is not a country nor is it controlled by any single nation.

    For all that some despise things like the Arctic Council, what’s the alternative? Total free-for-all? Mini zones of local control?

    Hopefully I am not preaching pre-conceptions here. I am asking: what should be done in the face of brand-new challenges and opportunities?

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  3. Mervel says:

    They need to start planning now.

    There are potentially huge oil reserves in the artic that are now going to be possibilities for extraction; not to mention the new shipping channels, all happening in a fragile environment that has the added problem that many people don’t really care about it because it is cold and far away.

    I would be with you Lucy, that we have done fine up to now leaving this area alone, why not have one part of this earth that is God’s alone and not drilled full of holes and spoiled with all of our activities.

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  4. JDM says:

    Sorry, Lucy.

    Proponents of global warming have deemed their science “closed for debate”, which is similar to the stance the Catholic Church once held when a guy named Galileo challenged their so-called “science” that the earth was the center of the universe.

    Until global warming opens up their so-called “science” to debate, again, anything to do with that subject is not science, and not worth discussion.

    Since this is an offshoot of that, I started out with my usual displeasure with the subject.

    True science seeks truth, and encourages debate, and reconciles differences to fine tune itself.

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  5. Pete Klein says:

    I probably shouldn’t say these things but I will.
    I wish the Arctic were treated in the same way as the Antarctic – meaning only science but no economic development.
    Knowing that will not happen because of human greed, I hope a lot of ships get stuck and sunk up in the Arctic. I hope investors lose tons of money and the natives drive them out.
    I hope we move into the next Ice Age and have nature solve the problem of the human cancer on this planet.

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