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The Arctic Council: Building a Region of Peaceful Cooperation

humpback whale

“Secretary Kerry’s leadership of the Arctic Council can demonstrate to international leaders that the US has the political courage to take the bold steps needed to wisely manage and conserve the region, its resources, and its wildlife, while ensuring the livelihoods of the four million people that call the Arctic their home”

Margaret Williams
Managing Director, WWF-US Arctic Program

The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum that formed in 1996 that aims to promote collaboration, coordination and interaction across the 8 Arctic member states: U.S., Canada, Sweden, Norway, Russia, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland.

The Arctic is a region of peaceful cooperation, but the climate and oceans are changing and the effects of which are happening faster here than anywhere else on the planet. Temperatures are rising twice as fast than ever before, sea ice and snow is melting at record levels and a new ocean is forming right before our eyes. Coasts that are no longer shielded by sea ice, are stressing the way of life for many of the 4 million Arctic residents.

But there is great opportunity for change. On April 24, 2014, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry took over as the incoming Arctic Council chairman. In the two years as Chair the U.S. will focus efforts on the environmental protection and economic development of the region.

They have identified three key themes of focus that include: establishing programs for Arctic Ocean security and stewardship, improving economic and living conditions or remote Arctic communities, and addressing a framework of solutions for climate resilience and adaptation. One example of how the US hopes to move this work ahead is by engaging the private sector to enable investment in renewable energy technologies that can be deployed in remote coastal Arctic villages in an economically attractive way.

Because the Council is not an international organization, each of the 8 member countries rotates chairmanship on a two-year timeframe. The last time the U.S. chaired was in 1998-2000, which was the second time since the beginning of the Council.

The Council is unique in that next to the eight arctic member states, there are several NGO’S that represent the large majority of the indigenous people across the arctic. They have a voice of influence by advising the decision-making of the state leaders. With on-the-ground teams in all of the Arctic countries, WWF is uniquely positioned to work with all member states, and has engaged with the Arctic Council since before its evolution.

Looking forward it is important that steps are taken to create a network of resilient marine areas in this region. WWF and partners have identified those special places that will be increasingly important in a future with less ice. These areas should be protected from unsustainable activities, such as oil and gas development and shipping, both of which are increasing in the region as more of the Arctic Ocean opens up as sea ice diminishes

So the decisions the US makes now will impact not just the Arctic but the entire country and planet for decades to come

We are watching the change happen – but we need to take action. Join us and help make a difference in the Arctic by calling for climate smart energy policies.

 

 

Arctic council states

Map of the 8 Arctic Council member states