Prof. David Johnson attended the 2015 Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting on behalf of ACOPS (Advisory Committee on Protection of the Sea) and GOBI (Global Ocean Biodiversity Initiative). Permanent Participants and Observers held a separate informal meeting, convened on 24 April 2014 by the Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples’ Secretariat, to exchange views on an on-going initiative to establish a ‘Funding Mechanism for a Better Arctic’. Take home messages included the need to advance natural and social science research; common concerns regarding relative sea-level rise; recognition of longstanding efforts on behalf of many Observers; and incentives for future cooperation.
Chaired by Hon. Leona Aglukkaq, Canada’s Minister for the Arctic, the meeting of the eight Arctic States, six Permanent Participant organisations and Observes reflected on achievements made during the 2-year Canadian Chairmanship. These include establishment of the Arctic Economic Council (to promote responsible economic development); a recommendation to use traditional and local knowledge more consistently; an initiative on mental wellness across Arctic communities; an 8-year Action Plan to implement the recommendations of the Arctic Biodiversity Assessment and a work plan to improve the status of priority species of Arctic breeding birds along their migratory routes; updated scientific assessments on short-lived climate pollutions and a framework for action to reduce black carbon and methane emissions; and an action plan to prevent marine oil pollution in the Arctic (see below).
Ministerial statements reflected on the Canadian Chairmanship and emphasised the role of the Arctic Council achieving peaceful cooperation over two decades whilst noting the threat of current geopolitical tensions. Key aspects included the enhanced capacity of Permanent Participants; oil pollution prevention and planning; use of best available technology and practices; commitments to mitigate black carbon and methane; food security; and Arctic tourism potential. Statements from Permanent Participants emphasized the importance of the AEC, concerns about geopolitical tensions and specific resource issues (e.g. mining proposals on Saami land), and capacity building. The interim status of the EU as an ‘Ad Hoc Observer’ was noted and a review of the contribution of Observers generally was confirmed as necessary. Ministers adopted the 2015 Senior Arctic Officials Report (setting out progress by Task Forces, Working Groups and Initiatives to strengthen the Arctic council) and signed an Iqaluit Ministerial Declaration (Annex 1).
The full SAO Report providing details of all deliverables is available on-line at: http://www.arctic-council.org/index.php/en/document-archive/category/604-declaration-sao-report
US Secretary of State John Kerry then set out a commitment for the 2-year US Chairmanship of the Arctic Council based upon three inter-connected themes: tackling climate change; ocean safety, security and stewardship; and economic and living conditions for those living in the Arctic. The Arctic is warming faster than any other region, an unprecedented change with knock on effects placing the resilience of Arctic communities in jeopardy. The US consider it important to help prepare Arctic communities for future change and advocated an enhanced digital elevation map, better predictions and smarter collective responses. Black carbon is 2000 times more potent than carbon dioxide, covers sea ice, absorbing solar radiation like a heat absorbing blanket. A direct link was made between climate issues affecting the Arctic and UNFCCC COP21 in Paris scheduled for December 2015. Ocean acidification implications were also identified as a key concern. The US pledged to progress the Framework for a pan Arctic network of MPAs. This framework aims to inform the development of MPAs and networks of MPAs that are located within the national jurisdiction of Arctic States. The framework offers guidance, it is not legally binding, and each Arctic State pursues MPA development based on its own authorities, priorities and timelines. The US will also pursue a Regional Seas Programme for the Arctic to improve cooperation and share best practices and promote joint pollution preparedness and response exercises. For Arctic peoples the US advocated water security, tools to improve mental health, an improved telecommunications infrastructure, sustainable economic development and expanding access to new and clean renewable technology.