The Arctic Council, established in 1996, is the only circumpolar political forum that involves all the Arctic states and provides for the active participation of the Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic.
Member states and the Chairmanship
There are eight member states of the Arctic Council: Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Russian Federation and the United States of America. The chairmanship of the Arctic Council rotates every two years among the eight member states. Canada has the chairmanship from May 2013-2015, followed by the United States in 2015-2017. The chairmanship, assisted by Arctic Council Secretariat staff, is responsible for arranging and hosting the Arctic Council meetings during its period. Each member state country has appointed a Senior Arctic Official (SAO), who manages its interest in the Arctic Council. Senior Arctic Official meetings are held once in the spring and once in the fall.
Ministerial meetings, gathering Foreign Ministers from all 8 states, are held biannually in the country holding the chairmanship and result in the signing of the Arctic Council declarations, setting the priorities of the Arctic Council for the coming period.
At the 7th Ministerial meeting in Nuuk, Greenland, on May 12 2011, the Arctic Council adopted the first legally binding Agreement on Cooperation in Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic (SAR agreement), which enhances cooperation on search and rescue in the Arctic region.
At the 8th Ministerial meeting in Kiruna, Sweden on May 15 2013, Ministers signed the second legally binding under the auspices of the Arctic Council. The Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic will substantially improve procedures for combatting oil spills in the Arctic. During the meeting six new non-Arctic states were also approved as accredited observers to the Arctic Council. Further, the Standing Arctic Council Secretariat officially became operational in Tromsø, Norway on June 1 2013.
There are six Permanent Participants (PPs) organizations in the Arctic Council that participate actively and are fully consulted in all deliberations and activities of the Council. The organizations representing the Arctic Indigenous Peoples are: Aleut International Association (AIA), Arctic Athabaskan Council (AAC), Gwich'in Council International (GCI), Inuit Circumpolar International (ICC), Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and Far East (RAIPON) and Saami Council (SC).
There are six Arctic Council working groups that engage in scientific-oriented studies on issues concerning the Arctic environment and its inhabitants. The working groups focus on issues such as: monitoring, assessing and preventing pollution in the Arctic, climate change, biodiversity conservation and sustainable use, emergency preparedness and prevention; as well as, living conditions of Arctic residents, studies on oil and gas and on Arctic shipping. The scientific reports provide advice and recommendations to the Arctic Council. The working groups are:
Arctic Contaminants Action Program (ACAP), Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF), Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response (EPPR), Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) and Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG).
Under certain conditions, observer status in the Arctic Council is open to a) non-arctic states (currently 12); b) inter-governmental and inter-parliamentary organizations, global and regional (currently 9); and c) non-governmental organizations (currently 11).The Arctic Council website: www.arctic-council.org