Canada must prepare now for Arctic Council chairmanship: ICC

Canada to chair Arctic Council in 2013, after Sweden


(updated at 11:45 p.m.)

As a ministerial meeting of the eight-nation Arctic Council drew to a close May 12 in Nuuk, the Inuit Circumpolar Council urged Canada to prepare now for 2013, when Canada will take the chairmanship of the council.

“I will tell Canada’s minister of foreign affairs that we are prepared to offer our support in helping the government make the right choices for the Arctic,” said Duane Smith, the head of the Canadian wing of the ICC, which has a non-voting “permanent participant” status in the Arctic Council, said in a statement.

Lawrence Cannon, Canada’s outgoing minister of foreign affairs, lost his House of Commons seat in the May 2 federal election, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper has yet to name his successor.

Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq, also the national health minister, represented Canada at the meeting, at which member states signed an internationally binding search and rescue agreement and issued a document called the Nuuk Declaration (see document embedded below) setting out the council’s priorities for the next two years.

This includes a task force on Arctic oil spills, a proposal made by Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Secretary of State.

“We are going to raise the visibility of Arctic issues back in the United States so that we can begin to take the steps that are necessary for us,” Clinton told the New York Times May 12.

The New York Times reported also that Clinton will continue to urge the U.S. Senate to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which sets out rules for resolving maritime boundary disputes between states.

With respect to tacking climate change, the Arctic Council made some small steps.

It recognized that “substantial cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are the backbone of meaningful global climate change mitigation efforts,” and urged nations to work on a global agreement to keep the world’s average temperature rise within two degrees — something scientists say will result in a much steeper temperature increase for the Arctic.

The Arctic Council also officially recognized that “climate change and other negative factors” have impacted the traditional livelihoods and food safety and security of Arctic indigenous peoples and other Arctic residents and communities.

Before the top ministers of the Arctic Council’s member nations meet again in 2013, the Arctic Council’s senior officials and various working groups will:

• start an assessment of the current state of human development in the Arctic and its relationship with climate change and “other factors” affecting Arctic communities;

• look at ways to follow up on the Snow, Ice and Permafrost report released earlier this month in Copenhagen;

• start a steering group to look at ways to limit soot (which it calls black carbon) in the Arctic and support a global agreement to reduce mercury use in the emissions;

• establish an expert group on Arctic ecosystem-based management for the Arctic environment;

• complete its “Arctic Ocean Review” project, that will look at existing global and regional measures for the Arctic marine environment, and an Arctic Biodiversity Assessment, which will contain a scientific assessment and policy recommendations; and,

• decide to start an Arctic Change Assessment, which would include an Arctic Resilience report.

Right now, the country that holds the chairmanship of the council looks after administrative functions. Sweden will take the chairmanship of the Arctic Council from Denmark as of May 12 for the next two years.

But by 2013, the Arctic Council will establish a permanent secretariat in Tromsø, Norway, no later than when Canada takes the chair that year.

Smith said in the ICC statement that in the “new Arctic” his organization must be more vigilant than ever to ensure that sustainable development occurs.

“I stress the word ‘sustainable’ in the development equation,” Smith said.

To that end, the ICC issued a declaration May 11 that said Inuit support oil and gas development only if Inuit receive the greatest possible economic benefit and the enviroment is protected.

Nunavut premier Eva Aariak, who attended the meeting as part of the Canadian delegation, said Nunavut shares the federal government’s vision for the Arctic.

“It is especially appropriate that our minister is Nunavut’s Member of Parliament, the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq. Together with [Northwest Territories] Premier Floyd Roland, we represent Canada’s first indigenous peoples delegation at the table of this important meeting,” Aariak said in a statement.

Aariak also said she supports the idea of creating a permanent secretariat for the Arctic Council.

“I welcome the proposals for a permanent secretariat, the trend within the Council towards more policy-making, and the renewed definition of the role and criteria for selection of observers, as steps towards a stronger Arctic Council,” Aariak said.

And Aariak, who praised the international deal on search and rescue, also said Nunavut hopes to see a similar agreement on oil spill emergencies.

“This issue is important for Nunavut as it witnesses the prospect of exploration drilling for oil and gas in its adjacent and internal waters,” Aariak said.

No exploratory drilling is yet proposed for the waters around Canada’s eastern Arctic, but in waters adjacent to Nunavut, Greenland has issued exploration permits to Cairn Energy and other firms to do hydrocarbon drilling in Baffin Bay.

Arctic Council Nuuk Declaration 2011

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