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Group touts big makeover for Arctic Council

Arctic needs new governance systems, policy group says

By JANE GEORGE

QUEBEC CITY — The eight-nation Arctic Council needs a big makeover, a group of academics, former politicians and policy advisors said May 18 at a conference on sovereignty and sustainable development held at Laval University in Quebec City.

Members of the group, called the Arctic Governance Project, have brainstormed the future governance of the Arctic, said Oran Young, a U.S. social scientist who chairs the committee and who was their sole representative at the conference.

The nine-member steering committee also includes Udloriak Hanson, a policy analyst with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., Tony Penikett, a former Yukon premier, and Bob Correll, the author of the 2005 Arctic Climate Impact Assessment.

Young told conference participants that the Arctic is now in the throes of a profound transformation that increasingly connects the region to the outside, and that these changes mean current forms of Arctic governance are outdated.

To meet what they call “cascades of change” in the Arctic, the committee members recommend building on what’s already in place, Young said.

A revamp of the Arctic Council is key to the group’s proposed plan (see Scribd document at bottom of page) for strengthening Arctic governance.

Since its April 14 release, members of the group have been promoting the plan through face-to-face meetings with top officials, politicians and other groups around the circumpolar world.

A mightier Arctic Council, rather than a multilateral treaty between governments — like the kind seen in Antarctica — is the way to go for the Arctic, Young said.

Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia, the United States and international indigenous groups sit on the Arctic Council.

Since 1996, the Arctic Council has served mainly as a high-level forum to advance circumpolar co-operation, protect the Arctic environment, and promote the economic, social and cultural well-being of its members.

But the Arctic Council should get a much higher profile and should become the principal forum for dealing with Arctic issues, says the committee behind the Arctic Governance Project.

They say nation-states and indigenous peoples in the circumpolar region should work towards a stronger Arctic Council, whose role would be expanded to include discussion on issues such as security, health and education.

Under this scheme, the Arctic Council wouldn’t change into a body with regulatory powers, but it would have a larger mandate and open its doors to more observers from non-Arctic players like China and the European Union.

The group also says a stronger Arctic Council would also reduce the need for outside alliances like the one formed by the group of five Arctic coastal states, which recently met in Chelsea Quebec without the participation of some Arctic Council members and indigenous peoples.

To kick off this new and improved Arctic Council, the Arctic Governance Project’s committee members propose that heads of states — not foreign ministers— would meet under the umbrella of the Arctic Council.

A few years ago this idea would have been treated like a joke, Young said.

“It’s not such a joke now,” he told delegates.

Other changes proposed for the Arctic Council include:

• full participation of permanent indigenous participants;

• admittance of non-Arctic states as permanent observers;

• a mechanism to provide more input from environmental groups and industry;

• stable funding; and

• a permanent secretariat.

The changes could be instituted in 2013, when Canada— which pushed for the creation of the Arctic Council in 1996 — takes back the chairmanship, Young said.

The Arctic Governance project also wants to see tighter regulations on fishing, tourism, shipping, search and rescue and emergency response in the Arctic.

They also want to see existing governance systems — such as land claims agreements — fully implemented, a closer relationship between scientists and policy-makers, as well as new forums for Arctic residents to discuss Arctic issues.

The project’s wider goals include building trust, promoting stewardship, enhancing “holistic” approaches, encouraging adaptation and making sure the Arctic remains a “zone of peace.”

But Judith Larocque of the Gwitch’in Council International, who attended the Laval conference, criticized the Arctic Governance project proposals as flawed.

Larocque said the report was directed by people who don’t live in the Arctic and that their steering committee sidelined the Arctic Council’s indigenous permanent participants.

And the Arctic Council is already doing its own review, she said.

But Young said the council’s own review was largely administrative in nature.

The recommendations of the Arctic Governance project report, which contains the views input from “hundreds” of people, will require the highest political will to carry out, he said.

The well-connected members of its steering committee, who represent all circumpolar nations, are already working behind-the-scenes to gain support.

They already have backing from Norway, whose ambassador to Canada mentioned some of their proposed changes earlier this month at a meeting on polar shipping in Montreal.

The Arctic Governance Project received money from foundations and academic institutions in the United States, Canada and Norway.

The project’s report is available at: www.arcticgovernance.org, or you may view the Scribd document below:

The Arctic Governance Project: April 14, 2010 Report

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