The Circle frequently addresses changes taking place in the Arctic –changes to climate, waters, human activities and wildlife – which are occurring in this region at unprecedented speed. One constant throughout these changes has been the government of Finland’s recognition of the need to work on them collaboratively through the Arctic Council.
Finland first chaired the Arctic Council in 2000. At that time, its Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja acknowledged that Finland was starting its term “preoccupied with our constant cause of anxiety, the vulnerability of the Arctic environment. The repercussions of climate change are far-reaching not only in the Arctic region but also globally.” He also noted that all their activities as Chair must be based on an appreciation of the link between the environment, and the knowledge of the Indigenous peoples and others living in the region.
At that time, Minister Tuomioja underscored the importance of focusing on the ecological, as well as the social, cultural and economic dimensions of sustainable development.
The rotating chair of the Arctic Council now returns to Finland. In introducing its priorities for the next two years, Finland is again highlighting climate change and sustainable development. As always, these priorities must merge with the views of other countries in defining the Ministerial direction for the upcoming term. As you’ll read in this edition of The Circle, the outgoing US Chair faced a mid-term change in presidents and no one is entirely sure what the new administration’s priorities are for the Arctic. Meanwhile, Iceland is on deck to chair the Council in 2019 and is already consulting its citizens on what issues should be highlighted in its upcoming term. This neatly ties in to Finland’s recognition of the importance of long term strategic goals that look beyond the two-year chairmanships.
Within the Arctic Council structure, the Permanent Participants – the circumpolar Indigenous peoples’ organizations – also have a voice in directing the Council. They also weigh in on what they feel needs to be prioritized in this term.
Outside of the Council, Arctic parliamentarians are requesting a forum of the Arctic state ministers responsible for climate to discuss initiatives for reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and short-lived climate forcers. Observer states to the Arctic Council – non-Arctic countries – also need to be involved and aware of how they can contribute to a well-governed Arctic. The government of the Netherlands speaks to how the Observer states can and should engage with the Council.
As an organizational observer and active participant in the Council’s work, WWF has strong views on what the Council should tackle. One of our repeated requests has been that Arctic states track progress on joint conservation commitments. To assist them, WWF has developed a scorecard showing progress to date against several critical indicators. We also urge this Ministerial to include: developing Arctic-wide plans and incentives for renewable energy; advancing creation of a network of marine protected areas to further minimize the risks of increasing Arctic shipping, and improved understanding of the effects of an acidifying ocean on fisheries.
LIISA ROHWEDER is CEO of WWF Finland.