Improving government coordination in the High North
The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental organization of the eight nations that at least a portion of which is located in the Arctic region. These nations are, in alphabetical order: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States. The Council was established by means of the 1996 Ottawa Declaration, although the nations had been consulting previously and had signed the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy in 1991. The Council’s mission is to promote cooperation, coordination, and interaction among the Arctic States, with the involvement of Arctic indigenous peoples and other interested parties on issues such as search and rescue, spill response, sustainable development, and environmental protection. Chairmanship of the Council rotates every two years. Sweden served as Chair until 15 May 2013, when the baton was passed to Canada at the meeting in Kiruna, Sweden. Six indigenous communities have Permanent Participant status, allowing them full participation in Council activities. Six nations (France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom) have been accorded Permanent Observer status, meaning that they are invited to most Council meetings and the right to participate in most projects. At the meeting in May, the requests of six additional nations (China, India, Italy, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea) for recognition as Permanent Observers were approved. Turkey and the European Union are Ad Hoc Observers. They must request permission to attend Council meetings and to participate in projects. Such requests are routinely granted. Various non-governmental organizations have also been granted observer status. In 2011, the Arctic Council member states signed the Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic. This was the first binding treaty concluded under the Council’s auspices. It divides the international Arctic waters into six sectors, with designated member states serving as the primary search and rescue (SAR) coordinator for incidents within the sector. An Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic was signed at the meeting in Kiruna.