About the Arctic Council
Arctic Council
Written by Administrator   

For many centuries, the Arctic was remote and pristine region left outside of scientific exploration as well as world politics. It was not before after second world war with technical advancement and ever increasing need for resources and space that world's eyes turned to the Arctic.

But instead of becoming a new scientific playground furthering our understanding on world's ecology, the Arctic became militarized region of both the east and the west for four long decades or until the emergence of the perestroika in the Soviet Union which gradually brought the cold war enemies closer and eventually to the same table in 1989.

The first purely Arctic oriented meeting of the eight Arctic countries - Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia and the U.S. - took place in Rovaniemi, Finland in september 1989. The topic of the meeting was the fragile Arctic environment and a potential for joint effort in tackeling the very delicate but urgent issue.

After intensive cooperation for the next two years, the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy was initiated in 1991. The AEPS concentrated on cooperation in scientific research and sharing of data on effects of pollution as well as assessing the potential environmental impacts of development activities in the Arctic through its four specific measures, namely Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, Protection of the Marine Environment in the Arctic, Emergency Prevention,Preparedness and Response in the Arctic and Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna.

The cooperation around the AEPS was quite untraditional for many reasons. First, it was one of the first venues where the cold war parties cooperated together to reach a common goal and secondly it became one of the very few inter-governmental institutions including indigenous peoples of the region in the work from the beginning.

It became, however, soon clear that the Arctic issues and the change happening in the Arctic environment would have such an immense impact globally that it was decided that the AEPS would step aside and new inter-governmental high level forum would be created to deal Arctic environmental issues.

In 1996, the Arctic Council, with membership of all eight Arctic states and permanent participation of regional indigenous peoples associations, was established to promote cooperation, coordination and interaction in issues of sustainable development and environmental protection.

The Arctic Council consists of eight Arctic states; Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia and the U.S and six permanent participants; Aleut International Association, Arctic Athabaskan Council (AAC), Gwich'in Council International (GCI), Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), Russian Arctic Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON) and Saami Council. The Arctic Council is governed by Senior Arctic Official (SAO) meetings, which are held twice a year and biennial Ministerial meetings. The chairmanship of the Council rotates between the eights states, each state holding the positition for two years at a time.

Since the end of the cold war the Arctic has been changing in ever increasing speed. Not only does the international community face immense environmental challenges that will influence every part of the world, but also will the Arctic states face territorial claims, issues concerning maritime transportation and infrastructure, natural resource exploitation and a whole new political setting.

The Arctic is becoming a lively international region rich of natural resources and high economic potential. The fact is, however, that there is lacking a common political agenda for the future in the Arctic and a legal framework for the emerging maritime activities. Infrastructure on the Arctic coastline is not ready to welcome the incipient economical activities and the participation procedure of the indigenous peoples in developing the area has not yet been fully established. Most of these activities must be undertaken jointly by all the

Arctic nations for them to have real impact. The shortage of the Arctic Council mandate to deal with issues other than environment has led to a situation where decicions are made in isolation creating thus incomplete and fragmented framework for the Arctic region.

This situation has been understood in the Arctic states and in every established national Arctic Policy the need for stronger Arctic Council is recognized. In the next few years then, the states have a challenge of reforming the Arctic Council to better correspond to the contemporary challenges. The mandate must be broadened to cover issues other than environment as well and the restructured Council must be presented with a higher level image to equal other international actors in the Arctic region.



The eight Arctic states rotate the chairmanships of the organizations, currently occupied by Sweden. The Norwegian, Danish and now the Swedish chairmanships have common objectives for their Arctic Council chairmanships between 2006 and 2013.

The first objective relates to climate change.
The aim is to follow up on the findings of the ACIA report and pursue implementation of the recommendations set out in the ACIA Policy Document adopted at the 2004 Ministerial Meeting. The Council "should continue its efforts to provide high quality information on climate change that includes input from all Arctic states and peoples."

The next objective is the integrated management of resources.

Sustainable use of resources and protection of the environment will be important issues for the Council in coming years. The needs of Arctic communities and indigenous peoples will be in the forefront. A key objective is to enhance discussion on and promote the integrated management of natural resource use in accordance with high environmental standards. More work is also needed on the management of chemicals, to eliminate such threats to people and the environment as chemical waste and diffuse contamination.

The third objective is regarding the International Polar Year 2007-2008 (IPY)

Although the International Polar Year has passed its legacy is still ongoing. The IPY has given scientific research a boost in the Arctic and highlight the importance of the Polar Regions through several major events. The next three chairmanships will work closely with the IPY Joint Committee to provide political support for the IPY effort and to ensure that IPY results are taken into account in policy-making.

The fourth objective relates to Indigenous peoples and local living conditions

A cluster to bring together the various Arctic Council activities in this field should be considered. For many indigenous peoples, a combination of subsistence living and paid work provides the economic basis for a way of life that bridges traditional and modern modes of production. Reindeer husbandry and hunting for Arctic mammals are activities unique to the Arctic. Documentation and research on indigenous issues such as indigenous languages should be promoted in the interests of preserving culture and identity.

The fifth and last Management issues

The AC can look back on 10 years of successful cooperation, and 15 years of working to implement the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy. Valuable experience has been gained. It is very important that the AC continues ongoing evaluations of how it works, to ensure that its limited resources are used as efficiently as possible, according to the Council's website. A joint secretariat, led by the Chair of Senior Arctic Officials (SAO), was established in Tromsø for the period 2006-2012.




 For the region's inhabitants, developments in the Arctic are a source of both challenges and opportunities. Climate change affects the cultures of the indigenous peoples and their traditional trades, such as reindeer husbandry, hunting and fishing.


At the same time, the business community's increasing interest in Arctic areas may create opportunities for economically more advantageous living conditions.

During its chairmanship, Sweden will promote negotiation by the Arctic States of a tool for prevention, preparedness and response when extracting oil in the Arctic in order to safeguard the region. To justify development in this sensitive area, it is important that it takes place in accordance with the conditions that are characteristic of the region.

Sweden will therefore lead the work on drafting guidelines for responsible entrepreneurship in the Arctic, which are based on existing internationally agreed guidelines on corporate social responsibility (CSR). Responsible entrepreneurship means that companies freely assume responsibility – beyond what is required by applicable legislation – on how their activities affect the environment, labour law conditions, human rights and the prevalence of corruption in their markets of operation.

The aim is to create a platform for dialogue and cooperation on sustainable enterprise.

Canada will take over the Chairmanships in 2013 and run until 2015.

Website of the Swedish Chairmanship

Interview with Gustaf Lind (pictured), chair of the Swedish chairmanship. Recorded in April 2012.




Member States


Arctic Policy

Senior Arctic Official: Sheila Riordon

Chairmanship: 1996–1998 and 2013-2015

Denmark/Greenland/Faroe Islands

Arctic Policy

Senior Arctic Official: Klavs A. Holm / Hanna í Horni (FO) / Naja Lund (GR)

Chairmanship: 2009-2011 and 2025-2027


Arctic Policy

Senior Arctic Official: Hannu Halinen

Chairmanship: 2000–2002 and 2017-2019


Arctic Policy

Senior Arctic Official: Jónas G. Allansson

Chairmanship: 2002–2004 and 2019-2021


Arctic Policy

Senior Arctic Official: Karsten Klepsvik

Chairmanship: 2006–2008 and 2023-2025


Arctic Policy

Senior Arctic Official: Anton Vasilev

Chairmanship: 2004–2006 and 2021-2023


Arctic Policy

Senior Arctic Official: Gustaf Lind

Chairmanship: 2011-2013 and 2027-2029


Arctic Policy

Senior Arctic Official: Julie Gourley

Chairmanship: 1998–2000 and 2015-2017



Working Groups

The Council's activities are conducted in six working groups. The working groups are composed of representatives at expert level from sectoral ministries, government agencies and researchers. Their work covers a broad field of subjects. The working groups are:

Arctic Contaminants Action Program (ACAP)

The goal of ACAP is to reduce emissions of pollutants into the environment in order to reduce the identified pollution risks. ACAP also encourages national actions for Arctic State governments to take remedial and preventive actions relating to contaminants and other releases of pollutants. ACAP acts as a strengthening and supporting mechanism to encourage national actions to reduce emissions and other releases of pollutants.

Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP)

AMAP's current objective is "providing reliable and sufficient information on the status of, and threats to, the Arctic environment, and providing scientific advice on actions to be taken in order to support Arctic governments in their efforts to take remedial and preventive actions relating to contaminants". AMAP is responsible for measuring the levels, and assessing the effects of anthropogenic pollutants in all compartments of the Arctic environment, including humans; documenting trends of pollution; documenting sources and pathways of pollutants; examining the impact of pollution on Arctic flora and fauna, especially those used by indigenous people; reporting on the state of the Arctic environment; and giving advice to Ministers on priority actions needed to improve the Arctic condition.


Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF)

The biodiversity working group of the Arctic Council, and its mandate is to address the conservation of Arctic biodiversity, and to communicate its findings to the governments and residents of the Arctic, helping to promote practices which ensure the sustainability of the Arctic's living resources. CAFF's projects provide data for informed decision making in resolving the challenges which are now arising in trying to both conserve the natural environment and permit regional growth. This work is based upon cooperation between all Arctic countries, indigenous organizations, international conventions, and organizations.

Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response (EPPR)

The goal of the EPPR Working Group is to contribute to the protection of the Arctic environment from the threat or impact that may result from an accidental release of pollutants or radionuclide's. In addition, the Working Group considers issues related to response to the consequences of natural disasters. EPPR works with Arctic Council Working Groups and other organizations to ensure that the emergencies are appropriately addressed in Council products and work. EPPR also maintains liaison with the oil industry and other relevant organizations with the aim of enhancing oil spill prevention and preparedness in the Arctic.

Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME)

The PAME Working Group's activities are directed towards protection of the Arctic marine environment. Increased economic activity and significant changes due to climatic processes are resulting in increased use, opportunities and threats to the Arctic marine and coastal environments. These predicted changes require more integrated approaches to address both existing and emerging challenges of the Arctic marine and coastal environments. PAME's mandate is to address policy and non-emergency pollution prevention and control measures related to the protection of the Arctic marine environment from both land and sea-based activities. These include coordinated action programmes and guidelines complementing existing legal arrangements.

Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG)

The goal of SDWG is threefold. To propose and adopt steps to be taken by the Arctic States to advance sustainable development in the Arctic, including opportunities to protect and enhance the environment and the economies, culture and health of Indigenous Peoples and Arctic communities, as well as to improve the environmental, economic and social conditions of Arctic communities as a whole. The SDWG has major areas of activity which include: Arctic Human Health, Arctic Socio-Economic Issues, Adaptation to Climate Change, Energy and Arctic Communities, Management of Natural Resources, Arctic Cultures and Languages.


Permanent Participants

Out of a total of 4 million inhabitants of the Arctic, approximately 500,000 belong to indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples' organizations have been granted Permanent Participants status in the Arctic Council. The Permanent Participants have full consultation rights in connection with the Council's negotiations and decisions. The Permanent Participants represent a unique feature of the Arctic Council, and they make valuable contributions to its activities in all areas. The following organizations are Permanent Participants of the Arctic Council:

- Arctic Athabaskan Council (AAC)

- Aleut International Association (AIA)

- Gwich'in Council International (GGI)

- Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC)

- Russian Arctic Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON)

- Saami Council (SC)



Observer status in the Arctic Council is open to non-arctic states, inter-governmental and inter-parliamentary organizations, global and regional and non-governmental organizations.

Six non-arctic countries have been admitted as Permanent Observer States to the Arctic Council:

  • France
  • Germany
  • The Netherlands
  • Poland
  • Spain
  • United Kingdom

Nine Intergovernmental and Inter-Parliamentary Organizations have been given observer status:

Eleven Non-government organizations are observers in the Arctic Council:




The Arctic Council has issued many recognized publications through the years. They include:

- Arctic Human Development Report (2004)

- Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (2004)

- Arctic Oil and Gas (2008)

- Human Health in the Arctic (2009)

- Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (2009)

- SDWG Report on the Arctic Energy (2009)

- Arctic Pollution (2011)

Arctic Council in the Arctic Portal Library

Arctic Council document archive



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