Return to form for Arctic Council as Russia assumes leadership of Iceland
By Eilís Quinn
“Russia intends to maintain ‘the spirit of cooperation’, to strengthen the constructive interaction between all member states and to increase our willingness to find the best solutions for the Arctic and its inhabitants,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov addressing delegates ahead of Russia. took over the two-year rotating presidency of the Council from Iceland.
“The Arctic is the land of peace, stability and constructive cooperation. We are happy to see that all our partners share this point of view. We are convinced that the prosperity of the Arctic can only be achieved through concerted efforts. “
The next priorities of the Russian presidency include sustainable development, environmental protection, socio-economic development and strengthening of the Arctic Council.
During his speech, Lavrov also expressed Russia’s support for an Arctic summit; and the resumption of Arctic Chiefs of Staff meetings, suspended in 2014 due to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
“Russia has a good agenda,” Heather Exner-Pirot, editor of the Arctic Yearbook, member of the Macdonald Laurier Institute and global member of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said in a telephone interview.
“I think it’s interesting that they want to organize a summit of heads of state, so that means Putin and Biden. Then they again called for the resumption of the meetings of the chiefs of staff. To me, all of this tells me that they want to use this presidency and use their influence in the Arctic to reduce some of the barriers that were placed on them after the Crimea.
The United States is positioning itself as a team player
The United States sought to reposition itself as a team player at this ministerial conference, the first attended by the Biden administration, following the 2019 Arctic Council meeting with the Secretary of State. American Mike Pompeo. refusal to sign a joint declaration on climate language and criticizing Canada, Russia and China for their activities in the North.
“The United States has come under scrutiny to demonstrate that it is back in the Arctic and ready to talk about climate change and ready to look for new ways to cooperate with other members,” Marc Lanteigne, Canadian associate professor of political science at the University of Tromso – Arctic University of Norway, said in a telephone interview.
“I wouldn’t say that the United States has completely abandoned its position on security, but there is the idea that the United States is also ready to talk about other major Arctic concerns such as security. human and environmental.
Strategic plan – missed leadership opportunity?
The Arctic Council has also released a 10-year strategic plan (2021-2030), stating that it “… reflects the shared values and common aspirations of Arctic States and permanent participants, to advance sustainable development. , environmental protection and good governance in the Arctic.
The Arctic Council is an international forum made up of the eight circumpolar nations: Canada, Denmark / Greenland, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia and the United States; and six arctic indigenous groups (known in the forum as permanent participants): the International Aleut Association, the Arctic Athabaskan Council, the International Gwich’in Council, the Inuit Circumpolar Council, the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North and the Council of Saami.
The forum was established in 1996 to enable Arctic states to work together on environmental protection and sustainable development.
The body’s leadership rotates among the Arctic states at biennial forum meetings, but there have been increasing calls over the years for the Arctic Council to take a more inclusive approach. long term of its work beyond the two-year presidency periods.
The plan released Thursday set seven goals: arctic climate, resilience of arctic ecosystems, a healthy arctic marine environment, sustainable social and economic development, increased knowledge and communications, and further strengthening of the arctic council.
“The whole apple pie and motherhood”
Exner-Pirot says the plan was a missed opportunity.
“There’s nothing controversial about it – it’s all apple pie and motherhood, so I’m surprised it took so long,” Exner-Pirot said. “It’s not that there is something wrong with what it contains, it’s just that there is no reform and no ambition.
“It’s disappointing because the Arctic Council is doing a good job. They monitor, evaluate and collect good science. It’s also great that the eight ministers meet every two years, but you wonder if they could do more with the circumstances and the context in which they find themselves. I don’t think the Arctic Council is leading, especially on issues like climate change. I think they reflect the good ideas that are happening in the Arctic states, or with the permanent participants, but there isn’t a lot of action after that.
The Arctic Council’s work on black carbon and the inclusion in the 2021 Reykjavik declaration that they want to reduce the pollutant by 25-33% from 2013 levels by 2025 is an example of the type of concrete goal where the body could show leadership, Exner-Pirot said, even though the statement characterized the target as only “ambitious.”
“With these eight powerful states brought together in one group, you would think it would be more strategic and less operational,” Exner-Pirot said. “It would be great to see more of the impact of this work they are doing and to have them communicate.”
This story is published on the Barents Observer as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.