The Arctic Council, established in 1996, is the only multilateral body that deals exclusively with the Arctic region. The high level intergovernmental forum provides means for promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States, with the involvement of the Arctic Indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants.
The Arctic Council deals with a wide range of topics concerning the Arctic region, including protection of the environment, conserving biodiversity, sustainable development, protection of health, social and cultural issues and climate policy.
Commercial Shipping Routes through the Arctic Region:
The Arctic serves as a major developing shipping route between the continents and different regions connecting areas far away before. Climate change and the resulting melted ice in the Arctic increases this development. What used to be the standard until now is not going to work in the future. Besides the eight member states further actors such as China or NGOs have an interest in the region. Commercial economic questions pop up first but also security issues. Economically speaking shipping and trade is the most important factor nowadays with a widening of opportunities and routes. Countries like China may be profiting strongly from that but also Germany although with no direct access to the Arctic. Being able to transport goods faster, easier and cheaper through the Arctic compared to usual routes definitely serves as a game changer without changing the global landscape too much. The open questions remain which roles will be taken by its members and other stakeholders in this environment. Is a further promotion of trade encouraged by all member states or will certain countries such as Canada insist on their specific land although widely seen as international seas. Some of these issues may remain unsolved but others may even lead to deeper international crises involving Russia and the US with certainty diverging interests and political will.
Minority Rights and Arctic Environmental Protection:
On the core of the Arctic – a great, mostly frozen Ocean surrounded by land – indigenous peoples adapted strategies to survive and call it their homeland. It is estimated that more than four million people live in the Arctic today, including indigenous people, recent arrivals, hunters, herders and city dwellers, who are split in bigger cities as well as in small settlements. Their settlement area is divided between the eight members with territories in the Arctic around the North Pole: Canada, United States of America, Russian Federation, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Denmark. The influx of new arrivals has created an increased pressure on the Arctic environment in the past few centuries. The number of Arctic people has grown rapidly due to improved healthcare for indigenous peoples and the discovery of vast natural resources during the 1950s and 1960s. Simultaneously indigenous peoples have inhabited the Arctic for thousands of years and many distinct indigenous groups are only residing there. They make up roughly 10% of the total Arctic population. More than 40 different ethnic groups with distinct sub-groups and communities are settled in the Arctic area. Indigenous peoples, their settlements and communities within the circumpolar countries are very divers. Some of them are rather small, widely scattered settlements, while there are also bigger cities with Hundred Thousands of people. Distinct features of the indigenous groups include a specific connection to land they inhabit and their own distinct languages, culture and traditional livelihoods – who embody a unique heritage – such as reindeer herding, fishing and hunting. Although there is a great variation of cultural, historical and economical backgrounds among these groups they share a common feature of having undergone substantial changes due to the globalization of the western way of life. But their home is also undergoing a rapid and fundamental climate change in their ecosystem. So that biodiversity, the impacts of climate change on the economic development, pollution and the Arctic environment itself are key issues for the Arctic. In terms of new settlements, territorial claims by the eight members, research and potential military conflicts as well as the climate change impacts the rights of the indigenous minorities must be protected, while the North Pole is facing new challenges.
The Kingdom of Denmark Finland Iceland Norway Russian Federation Sweden
- United States of America
Aleut International Association (AIA) Arctic Athabaskan Council (AAC) Gwich’in Council International (GCI) Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) Russian Arctic Indegenious Peoples of the North (RAIPON) Saami Council (SC)