Arctic Council sets up Arctic climate change project

The 150 delegates at last week’s Arctic Council gathering in Washington, D.C. avoided controversial subjects such as the Marine Mammals Protection Act, but they did agree on action to study climate change in the Arctic.


MONTREAL — Predictably, no momentous decisions, actions or progress surfaced during last week’s meeting of the Arctic Council in Washington, D.C.

But a study of changing weather patterns in the Arctic did receive the council’s enthusiastic support.

According to US chairman Ray Arnaudo, the recent get-together was a “good meeting,” attended by more than 150 delegates from the council’s eight member nations.

The Arctic Council was set up in 1996 to help circumpolar nations cooperate on common issues, especially the circumpolar environment.

Members states are Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States, with indigenous peoples’s organizations as non-voting partipants.

In Washington, D.C., senior arctic officials learned more about a plan to conduct an “Arctic Climate Impact Assessment” on climate change and the effects of increased ultraviolet [UV] radiation in the Arctic region.

According to a draft implementation plan, this assessment, to be completed by 2003, will:

“synthesize scientific information, predict environmental, human health and socio-economic impacts and recommend further action” over the next 100 years, by summarizing “what we know, what are likely changes in the future and what are the possible impacts in the future”;
be an “open process”, involving all member nations of the Arctic Council and indigenous peoples;
look at the physical, environment, ecosystems and people in each region;
suggest various scenarios and look at the impacts on such sectors as fisheries, human health, marine animals and tourism;
support “Arctic nations’ interests” through a long-term management and assessment plan.
Working groups on sustainable development, conservation, environmental protection and contaminants that already report to the Arctic Council will participate in this new group on climate change.

Its new secretariat will cost $500,000 US a year, with reports adding another $300,000 US to the total.

The US National Science Foundation is expected to pick up the tab for the major portion of these expenses.

The head of Canada’s delegation, DIAND official Jim Moore, said that he strongly supported this new initiative.

Moore said progress was also made towards developing a framework for the council’s sustainable development program that will satisfy those who favour a project-oriented approach and those who want the council to embrace broader principles.

“What you’ll see is a number of projects that you can hang under the same umbrella,” Moore said.

Moore said he was impressed with the sheer number and diversity of projects, including the University of the Arctic, that want to align themselves closely with the council.

Officials also looked favorably on Canada’s pet projects on Arctic — children and youth, and capacity building among the Arctic’s indigenous peoples.

But some are still concerned that the Arctic Council will steer clear of any discussion of any politically-charged issues.

For example, a senior US official said that there’s “no way at all” that the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act will ever be discussed at the level of the Arctic Council.

This official, who wished to remain unidentified, said that the dispute around this legislation is an “old story” and a “sore point,” but that the “council isn’t the place to resolve it” because “it’s not a negotiating body.”

Yet Canadians remain hopeful about the role that the Arctic Council may eventually play.

“I think there will be an increasing number of sensitive issues that have political spill-over that will make it to the council because we are dealing with issues that have an impact on government and Northerners,” Moore said.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference said that she was encouraged by council’s new “positive energy” in Washington, D.C.

She had asked officials to support the ratification of international protocols that would phase out or ban persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals.

In the US State Department’s prepared press release on the Arctic Council meeting, it says that the “SAOs encouraged cooperation by Arctic States to assist in reaching a global agreement on POPs as soon as possible.”

“They’ve never really said it before,” Watt-Cloutier said.

Finland has offered to take over the council’s secretariat in October, 2000.

Under the stewardship of Finland, which has advocated a more active role for the Arctic Council, the council could become more dynamic.

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