Last week, the Arctic Council met in Finland for the 11th Ministerial Meeting. The group issued a statement reaffirming a commitment to peace and stability in the region; diversity in the societies, cultures, and economies in the Arctic; sustainable development and protection of the Arctic environment; rights of indigenous peoples in the Arctic; and Finland’s past chairmanship of the council and the future leadership of Iceland. Climate change, which is a major problem in the Arctic region due to the shrinking ice caps, was conspicuously absent. According to a report in the New York Times, the United States did not want the statement to mention climate change, the science behind it, or the Paris Agreement. The Finnish Foreign Minister and outgoing chair of the council claimed that opposition to mentioning climate change was a position held by a minority. He issued a statement, which noted that the “majority of us regarded climate change as a fundamental challenge facing the Arctic and acknowledged the urgent need to take mitigation and adaptation actions and to strengthen resilience . . . .” The statements are issued based on consensus and so an objection by any of the members will prevent inclusion. During the final session, most speakers discussed the dangers the Arctic faces from climate change. Speakers from some of the indigenous groups outlined their daily struggles caused by living with climate change. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo only noted the “fragile ecosystem” of the Arctic and instead focused on Chinese influence in the region. According to reports on CNN, the State Department denies preventing the signing of a joint declaration at the end of the meeting, and claimed that the only difference between the statement issued and a declaration was the length, but that a consensus was still reached.
The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum intended to promote cooperation, coordination, and interaction among Arctic states, indigenous communities, and others in the region. Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States are members. Additionally, six organizations (Aleut International Association, Arctic Athabaskan Council, Gwich’in Council International, Inuit Circumpolar Council, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, and the Saami Council) that represent Arctic indigenous peoples have Permanent Participant status. Non-Arctic states can have observer status.