Environmental group Greenpeace accuses Arctic Council of promoting pro-oil agenda

Arctic Council senior officials meet in Yellowknife March 25


Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq speaks to a May 2011 meeting of the Arctic Council in Nuuk, Greenland, Greenpeace has accused the Arctic Council, now under Aglukkaq's chairmanship, of pushing a pro-oil agenda in Arctic waters. (FILE PHOTO)

Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq speaks to a May 2011 meeting of the Arctic Council in Nuuk, Greenland, Greenpeace has accused the Arctic Council, now under Aglukkaq’s chairmanship, of pushing a pro-oil agenda in Arctic waters. (FILE PHOTO)

Greenpeace Canada has accused the Arctic Council of pushing a pro-oil agenda under Canada’s leadership, ahead of the council’s upcoming meetings in Yellowknife.

A meeting of the council’s senior Arctic officials, which includes delegations from its member states and permanent indigenous participants, gets underway in Yellowknife March 25.

The meeting is expected to focus on the council’s Adaptation Actions for a Changing Arctic project, as well as exploring the reduction of short-lived climate pollutants, such as the small air-borne particles known as black carbon or soot.

While discussion around protection of the Arctic’s ecosystem may factor into the meeting’s agenda, Greenpeace is calling on the Arctic Council to re-assess its focus.

“Their priority during the [Canadian] chairmanship has been to create this Arctic economic council,” said Greenpeace’s Arctic campaigner Farrah Khan. “We see that as a very blatant way to give oil companies an advantage.”

The Canadian Arctic Council chairmanship’s theme is “Development for the People of the North,” with a focus on responsible resource development, safe Arctic shipping, and sustainable circumpolar communities.

When the new economic council was formally launched this past January at an Ottawa conference, Arctic Council minister Leona Aglukkaq, who also serves as federal environment minister, described the council as a way for Arctic businesses to engage more directly with Arctic Council states and indigenous permanent participants.

“It will facilitate and foster business opportunities, but it will do so with sustainable development in the Arctic in mind and it will contribute to a stable, predictable, transparent business climate,” Aglukkaq said last January.

But Greenpeace says the economic council is little more than a guise to give the business community and oil companies a direct link to Arctic officials.

“It’s an easy way to get business leaders meeting with Arctic leaders to sway their opinions,” Khan said. “I guess the question I would pose to the minister is: why not give northern communities a stronger voice at the Arctic Council? Why has she chosen to give business the strong voice?”

Ultimately, Khan said decisions about development should come from the people in the region that is targeted for development.

But Canada’s mandate as chair to the Arctic Council should focus on finding sustainable, long-lasting projects to benefit the North.

“Jobs that will end in a couple of years are not sustainable to any society,” Khan said.

Khan also emphasizes one of the major concerns at the centre of Greenpeace’s Save the Arctic campaign: once oil companies are allowed to drill in the Arctic, spills are inevitable and complicated to clean up, even in part.

No companies are currently drilling for oil and gas in Nunavut waters.

In the wake of one major oil company Royal Dutch Shell dropping its plans to drill in Arctic waters off Alaska in 2014, the federal department of Aboriginal Affairs held public consultation meetings in February around Baffin Island on potential oil and gas exploration in that region.

Greenpeace’s first Save the Arctic campaigners will also gauge community concerns about resource development in the Canadian Arctic north next week when they head to Yellowknife, as its still-new campaign attempts to reach farther north.

“We understand that the politics of climate change is relevant to everyone in the world, it’s of most importance to the people who actually live in the North,” Khan said.

Greenpeace says it is still waiting for a response from the Arctic Council on an application it made for observer status a few years ago, she added, so the organization can have better access to its meetings.

The second senior Arctic officials meeting of the Canadian chairmanship runs in Yellowknife March 25 to March 27.

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