Many international cooperation structures and networks have emerged in order to control the development and change of the Arctic. The most important of these is the Arctic Council. There are also many other forums for cooperation that are only relevant to a part of the Arctic, or related to a specific theme, such as economics or research.
Arctic inter-state cooperation did not begin until the 1990s, as it was not possible during the Cold War for political reasons. The rise of Arctic co-operation was also motivated by an increase in environmental awareness.
The Arctic Council was created in 1996 on the initiative of Canada. It was preceded by Arctic Environmental Protection Cooperation, the so-called Rovaniemi Process, initiated in 1991 by Finland.
Meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Arctic Council in Rovaniemi in spring 2019. Photo: Jouni Porsanger / Ministry for Foreign Affairs
Eight Arctic states are members of the Arctic Council. States whose territories pass through the Arctic Circle are recognized as members. Observers include many European and Asian countries and international organizations. The chairmanship of the Council rotates every two years between the Arctic countries. The Arctic countries are:
- Denmark (Greenland)
- United States
Meeting of the Sámi Parliament in Inari in 2014. Photo: Vesa Toppari
Six Arctic indigenous peoples’ organizations are permanent members of the Arctic Council. As a result, the position of indigenous peoples in the Arctic Council is stronger than in any other international organization. To become a permanent participant, you must either represent more than one nation or operate in more than one state:
- Aleutit (Aleut International Association)
- Athabaskat (Arctic Athabaskan Council)
- Gwich’init (Gwich'in Council International
- Inuitit (Inuit Circumpolar Council)
- Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON)
- Saamelaiset (Saamelaisneuvosto, Saami Council)
The activities of the Arctic Council are primarily concerned with environmental issues and sustainable development. For example, security issues are excluded from the Council's work. The Arctic Council acts by consensus, i.e. it seeks unanimity in its policies. The Council does not take binding decisions on the Member States, although it has negotiated individually binding agreements on, for example, oil spills. At the heart of the Council's work are six expert working groups working in their respective environmental sectors:
- Arctic Contamination Action Programme (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)
- Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG)
Barents Euro-Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Oulu in 2015. Photo: Ilkka Tiensuu
Forums in the Arctic have emerged to meet specific regional or other needs. The Barents Euro-Arctic Council organizes cooperation in the northern parts of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia. Geographically, the Barents region extends from the Norwegian Lofoten mountains in the west to the Ural Mountains in the east.
The Barents Euro-Arctic Council operates on two levels: transnational and interregional. The latter takes place in the Barents Regional Council, which has 13 member regions from four countries. There are numerous working groups of officials in various sectors, both at transnational and regional level, including in the areas of transport, economic cooperation, culture, youth and indigenous peoples.
Russia, Norway and Iceland are also involved in the European Union's Northern Dimension program. The Northern Dimension region covers northwest Russia, the Baltic Sea and the Barents region. There is no exact delimitation for it. The aim of the Northern Dimension is to support stability, prosperity and sustainable development in the region through practical cooperation. At the heart of the action are partnerships in the fields of the environment, transport and logistics, culture and social and health work. Economic sanctions between Russia and the EU have hampered the funding of the programs.
Arctic parliaments have been engaged in Arctic cooperation since the 1990s and meet every two years at Arctic Parliamentary Conferences. The Nordic Council also has its own Arctic program. The parliaments of the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland have a joint body in the West Atlantic, the West Nordic Council.
Collaboration of researchers
Most Arctic phenomena and developments are transnational in nature. As a result, the Arctic science community has built networks for a long time. The International Polar Year, which explores both polar regions, was first organized in the late 19th century. The event has been held four times altogether, most recently in 2007-2009.
International Polar Year Project Kinnvika brought Arctic Centre glacial scientists to Svalbard in 2008. Photo: Emilie Beaudon
The International Arctic Science Committee IASC was born in the late 1980s and has evolved into a kind of umbrella organization for Arctic science. The Arctic touches on a wide range of disciplines and involves researchers from many countries: Arctic research is not limited to research institutes in the Arctic countries.
Chinese Research Station in Svalbard. Photo: Anna-Liisa Ylisirniö
Arctic universities and research institutes are organized into the University of the Arctic, a network that organizes student exchanges and thematic research networks, among others. Members include universities in the Arctic region and outside it.
International organizations and meetings
In addition to governments and research institutes, many international organizations operate in the Arctic. However, there is no international environmental organization that specifically focuses on the Arctic. WWF and Greenpeace that work worldwide are also active in the Arctic.
Arctic business is organized within the Arctic Economic Council, whose presidency follows the rhythm of the Arctic Council. The Council aims to promote business and economic development in the Arctic
In 2017, the Rovaniemi Arctic Spirit Conference met to discuss issues such as sustainable development
There are many different kinds of Arctic-related conferences and conferences around the world. Some are general, some focus on a specific theme. Regular events include:
Antarctic issues are discussed through a joint Antarctic Treaty. On the contrary, there is no international legally binding Arctic Treaty. The Arctic Council is established by a declaration, not a treaty, i.e. it represents a so-called soft-law instrument which is not strictly binding to the states involved.
The essential differences between the polar regions in terms of cooperation are:
- Antarctica does not belong to any state. All the land in the Arctic is part of a state. Only Svalbard has a treaty regulating it (the Svalbard Treaty) applies to the Svalbard.
- No one lives permanently in Antarctica. The Arctic region has about four million inhabitants.
- Antarctica is a continent surrounded by the sea. In the north, there is an ocean in the polar region, surrounded by continents and islands. In the North, there are rules and agreements on shipping and maritime governance.
- By convention, the Antarctic is for peaceful and scientific use only. The Arctic has a strong military and economic presence.
Anatov or Antti aircraft in Antarctica. Photo: Kristiina Virkkunen / Finnarp