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Polar bear roaring on ice cap

Our Durham Arctic Research Centre for Training and Interdisciplinary Collaboration (DurhamARCTIC) and the Embassy of Iceland are celebrating 25 years of the signing of the Ottawa Declaration that led to the creation of the Arctic Council. Here Romain Chuffart, a PhD student in Durham Law School and chair of an event to mark the milestone anniversary, tells us more about the important work of the Arctic Council in changing times for the region.

Since its creation a quarter of a century ago, the Arctic Council has placed itself at the centre of Arctic governance, promoting international cooperation between all those with a stake in the Arctic.

The Arctic Council is a consensus-based, high-level intergovernmental forum whose work focuses on promoting sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic. 

Building on the work of its predecessor, the 1991 Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy, the Arctic Council gathers at the same decision-making table delegates from the eight Arctic States (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden, and the United States) and six permanent participant organisations representing indigenous peoples and communities across the Arctic. This includes the Aleut International Association, Arctic Athabaskan Council, Gwich'in Council International, Inuit Circumpolar Council, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, and Saami Council, as well as non-Arctic Observing States, Non-Governmental Organisations, and scientists.

Climate change

As climate change destabilises Arctic human and environmental security and transforms the way the region is understood both locally and globally, the Arctic Council has aimed to bridge the gap between scientific research, traditional knowledge, and decision-making.

It brings together different knowledgeable communities to work on common Arctic issues from both a social and an environmental perspective. As such, the Arctic Council offers an institutionalised space where those with a broad range of expertise, experiences, and ways of understanding the Arctic gather, share information, and generate knowledge with the potential effect of informing public policies. 

The Arctic Council works with a rotating chairmanship during which each of the eight Arctic states takes the Council’s lead for two years. At the end of May 2021, Iceland handed over the chairmanship to the Russian Federation. During their two years as chair of the Arctic Council, each Arctic state sets their own priorities and agenda. Each Arctic state also appoints a Senior Arctic Official. Akin to an “Arctic Ambassador”, the Senior Arctic Official oversees their country’s delegation at the Arctic Council.

Global and local issues

Through the work of its scientific working groups, the Arctic Council has helped Arctic states cooperate on specific global and local issues, such as search and rescue cooperation, shipping, impact of pollutants and microplastics, monitoring Arctic fauna and flora, and sustainable economic development.  In 2005, the Arctic Council produced the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, the first comprehensive multi-disciplinary assessment of the impacts of climate change in the Arctic and it has influenced the work of international organisations like the United Nations, the International Maritime Organization, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

In recent years, the Council has provided the structure for negotiation of three international agreements among the Arctic States in search and rescue, oil pollution preparedness and response, and scientific cooperation.

From an international relations perspective, the Council has also managed to ease off East-West tensions and bring the United States and Russia to collaborate on common issues.

Find out more