The intergovernmental cooperation body Arctic Council has existed since 1996. After a fairly anonymous existence in the first years, it has become the most important forum for the polar region. It gets attention from all over the world. The starting point for establishing the Arctic Council was cooperation on environmental protection and work against pollution. Today, the agenda in the council covers diverse topics such as the environment, climate, sustainable development, business, comprehensive management, education and research as well as cultural activity.
- How has intergovernmental cooperation developed in the north?
- What resources are available in the north?
- Why and how do the states cooperate there?
- What are the interests of countries from completely different parts of the world in the north?
2: On the Arctic Council
According to EZINESPORTS.COM, Russia, the United States, Canada, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway are members of the Arctic Council , all with equal voting rights. All decisions in the council are based on consensus (everyone must agree). In addition, six different indigenous peoples’ organizations are permanent members of the council with the right to speak during the meetings. The Arctic Council is the only organization that includes all the states in the area around the North Pole and representatives of all indigenous groups in the High North.
A permanent secretariat for the Arctic Council was established in Tromsø in 2013, and the Arctic indigenous groups already have their own secretariat in Copenhagen. The Arctic Council has established six permanent working groups that deal with topics such as pollution, climate change and environmental impact, biodiversity, protection of the maritime environment, accident prevention and contingency plans. In addition, there is a working group that assesses sustainable development in the High North. The permanent working groups receive help and support from a number of temporary expert groups and committees.
In the Arctic Council, there are several types of meetings. The ministerial meeting is most important and is arranged every other year. Most member states of the Council participate with their foreign ministers. The presidency of the Arctic Council rotates between the member countries, and Canada took over this responsibility in 2013. During the Canadian presidency, they will prioritize conditions for the people living in the Arctic. The business community will also be higher on the agenda, and Canada will lead the work of establishing an economic forum in the Arctic Council.
Twice a year, there are meetings between senior officials from the member countries of the Arctic Council. The officials (and women) shall follow up the decisions from the Council of Ministers’ meetings. Experts from the six permanent working groups in the Arctic Council regularly report on their work in the meetings.
3: Resources in the Arctic
Climate change in the Arctic is leading to less ice, among other things. Thus, some areas become more accessible than before. This opens up opportunities for more activity in the north.
There are significant mineral and petroleum resources in the High North. Greenland is an area where minerals become more accessible due to the melting of ice. A number of companies from Europe, America, Asia and Australia have or will start mining operations in Greenland where there are both common and rare minerals. Petroleum is another sought-after resource. A US study in 2008 concluded that 13 percent of the undiscovered oil resources in the world are in the Arctic, as well as 30 percent of the gas resources. The US report assumes that 84 percent of the Arctic’s petroleum resources are below the seabed and that 16 percent are on land.
However, petroleum extraction in the Arctic has not grown as much as many thought just a few years ago. Extracting oil and gas from the High North is expensive. The price on the world market must be relatively high for recovery in the north to be accountable. The increasing production of shale gas and oil in the USA, among other places, also keeps the price level down.
4: Advantages and disadvantages
Both in Norway and the international community, however, there are different views on how appropriate it is to open up for more commercial operations in the Arctic.
The optimists point to the economic and social benefits of more petroleum extraction, mineral extraction and tourism in the region. They also see opportunities for commercial shipping via a northern sea route in the Arctic Ocean; this will shorten the distance between Europe and Asia significantly. More commercial activity can create jobs, ensure continued settlement and secure communities in the High North. Emigration is a challenge in some communities in the Arctic.
The doubters point to a high risk of pollution, challenging climate, large distances and uncertainty about profitability. They also highlight opportunities for conflicts and conflicts between new activities and old established industries such as fishing and reindeer husbandry. Several experts and activists point out that nature in the north is vulnerable and that pollution from new business activities can have serious consequences.