Top Arctic ministers ready for visit to Nunavut capital
April 24 ministerial meeting wraps up Canada's chairmanship of international circumpolar org
If you live in Iqaluit, you will notice an above average amount of activity, many unfamiliar faces, and a lot of air traffic April 24.
For that brief period this week, many observers from around the world will pay attention to events in Iqaluit and the circumpolar world.
That’s because the eight-nation Arctic Council will hold its high level-ministerial meeting April 24 in Nunavut’s capital — and it’s not every day that United States Secretary of State John Kerry and other high profile leaders head north to Iqaluit.
Senior Arctic officials from Canada, the U.S., Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Russia, and representatives of the six permanent indigenous participant groups, including the Inuit Circumpolar Council, will also meet in Iqaluit this week in advance of the ministers who arrive April 24.
The 2015 meeting marks the Arctic Council’s return to its first host city: the inaugural Arctic Council ministerial meetings were held in Iqaluit in 1998, with little international fanfare or security, at the Anglican Parish Hall, two years after the council’s launch in 1996 in Ottawa, under Mary Simon, then Canada’s Arctic ambassador.
At the April 24 meeting in Iqaluit, Canada will pass the chairmanship of the council to the U.S.
With that transfer of Arctic Council leadership from Canada to the U.S. comes a new theme and new priorities focused on security and safety.
Canada’s overarching theme, “Development for the People of the North,” put its Arctic Economic Council at the centre of its two-year period as Arctic Council host country.
But for the U.S., the overarching theme will be “One Arctic, With Shared Opportunities, Challenges, Responsibilities.”
The U.S. has made stewardship and governance of the Arctic Ocean its top priority, and that means security and safety.
“I’ve long believed one of the things you do in terms of prosperity of your people and their safety and security is you make sure you provide safe and secure approaches to your shores and environmentally sound practices,” said the U.S. special representative for the Arctic, retired Coast Guard Admiral Robert Papp, at a meeting last October in Iceland.
The second U.S. priority is climate change — both mitigation and adaptation.
Third, under the U.S., the Arctic Council will continue to work on economic issues such as the Arctic Economic Council that Leona Aglukkaq, Nunavut MP and minister responsible for the Arctic Council, pushed for.
Papp, who becomes SAO of the Arctic Council under the U.S., has said the U.S. wants to build the council’s influence.
This, he said, includes the indigenous peoples of the Arctic, who are represented on the Arctic Council by six permanent participants, the ICC, the Arctic Athabaskan Council, the Aleut International Association, the Gwich’in Council International, the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North and the Saami Council.
“This is about people. Yes, it’s a vast region of the globe, but it’s more about people and their safety and security,” Papp said.
Top foreign ministers of the eight-member nations are expected to attend, but, while Kerry will travel to Iqaluit, his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, is not expected to attend. Russia’s environment minister, Sergei Donskoi, is expected to attend in his place.
According to a draft agenda of the April 24 meeting, here’s what you can expect to see April 24.
After their arrival in Iqaluit, the ministers will meet, behind closed doors, for about four hours inside Nunavut’s legislative assembly chamber.
Then, although members of the public remain excluded, the ministerial meeting and news conference will be live-streamed online, from 2:00 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. on the Arctic Council website.
You’ll see Leena Evic, Pirurvik Centre’s executive director, light a qulliq. Aglukkaq, in her role as Canada’s chair of the Arctic Council, will then talk about what was achieved during Canada’s Arctic Council chairmanship.
On these, Aglukkaq said in a recent news release that “Canada has put northerners at the forefront of the Arctic Council’s agenda.”
“Under Canada’s chairmanship, the council has taken action to improve the lives of northerners by, among other things, enhancing sustainable economic development, promoting mental wellness, supporting indigenous languages and ensuring that the traditional knowledge of Arctic communities is more consistently included in the work of the council.”
Other ministers, permanent participants and SAOs will make reports and accept reports from the six Arctic Council working groups, task forces, expert groups and the Arctic Economic Council — which will be followed by the adoption and signing of an Iqaluit ministerial declaration and a presentation by Kerry about the U.S. Arctic Council program.
That’s before Canada officially hands over the chair of the council to the U.S. with the passing of a ceremonial gavel from Aglukkaq to Kerry.
In the Iqaluit declaration — a follow-up to 2013’s declaration from the 2013 ministerial meeting in Kiruna, Sweden — you will find statements about the council’s plans to work on projects dealing with biodiversity, oceans, people, the environment and climate, along with an action plan on marine oil pollution.
The minister will, among other reports, endorse an eight-year action plan to implement the recommendations of the Arctic Biodiversity Assessment and a work plan to assist Arctic breeding birds along their migratory routes.
In Iqaluit, ministers will also consider requests from other states and non-governmental organizations for observer status at the Arctic Council.
The European Union now holds “ad hoc” observer status at the Arctic Council, meaning the EU must seek permission to attend each Arctic Council meeting.
The EU application for full observer status may yet provoke some discussion.
China, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, the United Kingdom, India, Italy, Japan, Singapore and South Korea enjoy observer status at the moment, receiving automatic invitations to attend most Arctic Council meetings and working group sessions.
With files from Jane George and Jim Bell