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.