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Options for Arctic marine cooperation: the WWF vision

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This article originally appeared in The Circle 02.16.

The rapidly changing Arctic faces new challenges. Therefore, new approaches to marine governance are needed to ensure the sustainability of the entire region and a healthy Arctic Ocean. The Arctic Council (AC) is evolving from a science dialogue forum to policy shaping regional instrument. Improving the implementation of AC decisions and recommendations is essential to this evolution.

Strengthening marine cooperation in the Arctic will provide for better coordination, decision-making and implementation mechanisms. It would also address the gap between technical and scientific analysis and policy design while supporting monitoring and reporting on implementation within the AC.

As an active observer to the AC, WWF is developing approaches and options for Arctic marine cooperation. WWF proposes four potential options:

1. Create strong Science, Policy and Implementation interactions through a new AC structure

Integrate Working Groups (WGs), Task Forces (TFs) and Senior Arctic Officials (SAOs) through three subsidiary bodies within the AC with separate but complementary responsibilities:

  1. science (or knowledge) coordination group:
    would house the existing WGs and expert groups; produce scientific assessments and reports on topics specified by Ministers, provide corresponding scientific and technical recommendations and identify new and emerging issues.
  2. policy coordination group:
    would recommend further action based on the scientific assessments/reports/recommendations; responsible for bringing the resulting policy recommendations to Ministers. Run by SAOs and would oversee Task Forces.
  3. implementation coordination group:
    would consider the recommendations provided by the policy group and develop general implementation plans with clear timelines and measures to guide Arctic States in developing national implementation plans; would also identify where policies could be implemented by other relevant international frameworks.

2. Create an Arctic Council Marine Commission

The mandate of the Commission would be based on the four strategic objectives of the Arctic Marine Strategic Plan 2015-2025 (AMSP). Its work would focus on ensuring full implementation of the entire plan. The Commission would be composed of Permanent Participants as well as high level representatives from each Arctic State with expertise in marine issues and the authority to implement marine related policies and strategies in their respective States. The Commission would coordinate the work of all WGs and facilitate connectivity between the science and policy processes.

3. Establish an Arctic Marine Cooperation Framework Agreement

A framework agreement would facilitate cooperative actions by the eight Arctic states, acting through the AC Ministers, to achieve the agreed goals of the Arctic Marine Strategic Plan. A framework agreement would function through a system of agreed action on key Arctic marine issues as identified by Arctic Ministers, with implementation timeframes and procedures to measure their success. The Arctic Council Secretariat (ACS) would work with the Ministers to facilitate actions stemming from the Framework Agreement.

4. Build an Arctic Council Marine Implementation System

This includes three steps to enhance the coordination and integration of all elements of the marine agenda within the AC:

  1. scheduled “Arctic Council Marine Coordination Sessions” convening experts from all working groups on marine issues with agenda focus on specific cross-cutting issues addressing elements of the AMSP
  2. regular meetings of Ministers responsible for marine implementation. There would be a concrete agenda as per coordination session. Advice would be strictly related to the implementation of the AMSP. Different Ministers could attend different meetings depending on agenda items
  3. strengthen the ACS by providing it with a mandate to facilitate/ coordinate/administer a “marine agenda”among the WGs while serving as the Secretariat responsible for organizing coordination sessions and Ministerial meetings, including the preparation of meeting documents

These options are not mutually exclusive but can complement one another. WWF suggests that a new AC structure (based on policy coordination groups) could be implemented through a binding framework agreement on marine cooperation. An implementation system could include elements of the fourth option.

All options envisage a strong role for the AC. Each option would work within the Council, based on current operating principles including the continued strong involvement of Permanent Participants. These options do not prejudice the sovereignty of coastal states over their territorial seas, their sovereign rights and jurisdiction in their Exclusive Economic Zones regarding their continental shelves, or the rights of other states in these areas in accordance with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

These options would cover all marine elements of work under the AC mandate, including but not limited to: Arctic shipping management; oil spill prevention; national coordination of ecosystem-based approaches to management and cooperation to establish special management areas. All options should apply to the entire Arctic marine environment as per the geographical area defined by the Council’s activities, from the surface of the sea to, but not including, the seabed below.

These options would have implications for the current structure of the AC, such as increasing capacity, and establishing new positions and bodies. They would also provide for better marine coordination both within the council, and in the Council’s dealings with the rest of the world, and for predictable and measurable progress on marine issues.

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