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The Arctic Council is a high-level intergovernmental forum that addresses issues faced by the Arctic governments and the indigenous people of the Arctic. It has eight member countries: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States.
History of the Arctic Council 
The first step towards the formation of the Council occurred in 1991 when the eight Arctic countries signed the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS). The 1996 Ottawa Declaration established the Arctic Council as forum for promoting cooperation, coordination, and interaction among the Arctic States, with the involvement of the Arctic Indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on issues such as sustainable development and environmental protection. The Arctic Council has conducted studies on climate change, oil and gas, and Arctic shipping.
Member states 
Only states with territory in the Arctic can be members of the Council. All eight countries are members making the Arctic Council a circumpolar forum. The Council also has permanent and ad-hoc observer countries and "permanent participants".
Chairmanship of the Council rotates every two years. The current chair is Canada, which serves until the Ministerial meeting in May 2015. Canada (1996–1998) served as first Chair, followed by the United States (1998–2000), Finland (2000–2002), Iceland (2002–2004), Russia (2004–2006), Norway (2006–2009), Denmark (2009-2011) and Sweden (2011-2013). Norway, Denmark, and Sweden agreed on a set of common priorities for their three chairmanships.
Observer states 
Permanent observer states 
Observer status is open to non-Arctic states approved by the Council at the Ministerial Meetings that occur once every two years. Permanent observers have no voting rights in the Council. As of May 2013, twelve non-Arctic states have Permanent Observer status. Observer states receive invitations for most Council meetings. Their participation in projects and task forces within the Working Groups is not always possible, but this poses few problems as few Observer States want to participate at such a detailed level.
Ad-hoc observer states 
Ad-hoc observer states need to request permission for their presence at each individual meeting; such requests are routine and most of them are granted. There are six ad hoc members, not including the European Union. At the 2009 Ministerial Meeting in Tromsø, Norway, China, the EU, Italy, and South Korea requested full observer status. They were not granted, mostly because the members do not agree on the role of Observer States.
The indigenous Permanent Participants (PPs) have mixed views about the increasing group of non-Arctic observers. Some fear that their roles will be marginalized if large players such as India, China and the EU receive more attention.
Nongovernmental observers 
Approved intergovernmental and interparliamentary organizations (both global and regional) and non-governmental organizations can also obtain Observer Status. They include the Arctic Parliamentarians, International Union for Conservation of Nature, the International Red Cross Federation, the Nordic Council, the Northern Forum, United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme; and a handful of non-governmental organizations such as the Association of World Reindeer Herders, the University of the Arctic, and the World Wide Fund for Nature-Arctic Programme.
Indigenous peoples 
Seven of the eight member states have sizeable indigenous communities living in their Arctic areas (only Iceland does not). Organizations of Arctic indigenous peoples can obtain the status of Permanent Participant to the Arctic Council, but only if they represent a single indigenous people resident in more than one Arctic State or more than one Arctic indigenous people resident in a single Arctic State. The number of Permanent Participants should at any time be less than the number of members. The category of Permanent Participants has been created to provide for active participation and full consultation with the Arctic indigenous representatives within the Arctic Council. This principle applies to all meetings and activities of the Arctic Council.
Permanent Participants may address the meetings. They may raise points of order that require immediate decision by the Chairman. Agendas of Ministerial Meetings need to be consulted beforehand with them; they may propose supplementary agenda items. When calling the biannual meetings of Senior Arctic Officials, the Permanent Participants must have been consulted beforehand. Finally, Permanent Participants may propose cooperative activities, such as projects. All this makes the position of Arctic indigenous peoples within the Arctic Council quite unique compared to the (often marginal) role of such peoples in other international governmental fora. However, decision making in the Arctic Council remains in the hands of the eight member states, on the basis of consensus.
As of 2010, six Arctic indigenous communities have Permanent Participant status. These groups are represented by the Aleut International Association, Arctic Athabaskan Council, Gwich'in Council International, Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON), and the Saami Council. These indigenous organisations vary widely in their organisational capacities and the size of the population they represent. To illustrate, RAIPON represents some 250,000 indigenous people of various (mostly Siberian) tribes; the ICC some 150,000 Inuit. On the other hand, the Gwich'in Council and the Aleut Association each represent only a few thousand people.
It is costly for these groups to be represented at every Council meeting, especially since they take place across the entire circumpolar realm. To enhance the capacity of the PPs to pursue the objectives of the Arctic Council and to assist them develop their internal capacity to participate and intervene in Council meetings, the Council has established—and provides financial support to—the Indigenous Peoples' Secretariat (IPS). The IPS is located in Copenhagen, Denmark and its board decides on the allocation of the funds.
However prominent the role of indigenous peoples, the Permanent Participant status does not confer any legal recognition as peoples. The Ottawa Declaration, the Arctic Council's founding document, explicitly states (in a footnote): "The use of the term 'peoples' in this declaration shall not be construed as having any implications as regard the rights which may attach to the term under international law." Incidentally, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 13 September 2007 after 22 years of negotiations, was rejected by Canada and the United States, while Russia abstained. Both the United States and Canada have their origins as colonies of the United Kingdom and have large non-indigenous immigrant majorities and small remnant indigenous populations. This means that most Arctic indigenous people were not covered by the rights laid out in the declaration. In November 2010, Canada officially endorsed the declaration and in December of that year President Obama declared the United States would sign the declaration.
Administrative aspects 
The Arctic Council convenes every six months somewhere in the Chair's country for a Senior Arctic Officials (SAO) meeting. SAOs are high-level representatives from the eight member nations. Sometimes they are ambassadors, but often they are senior foreign ministry officials entrusted with staff-level coordination. Representatives of the six Permanent Participants and the official Observers also are in attendance.
At the end of the two-year cycle, the Chair hosts a Ministerial-level meeting, which is the culmination of the Council's work for that period. Most of the eight member nations are represented by a Minister from their Foreign Affairs, Northern Affairs, or Environment Ministry.
A formal, though non-binding, "Declaration", named for the town in which the meeting is held, sums up the past accomplishments and the future work of the Council. These Declarations cover climate change, sustainable development, Arctic monitoring and assessment, persistent organic pollutants and other contaminants, and the work of the Council's five Working Groups.
Arctic Council working groups document Arctic problems and challenges such as sea ice loss, glacier melting, tundra thawing, increase of mercury in food chains, and ocean acidification affecting the entire marine ecosystem. Arctic Council members agreed to action points on protecting the Arctic but most have never materialized.
Locations for the Ministerial meetings:
- 1998 Iqaluit, Canada
- 2000 Barrow, Alaska, USA
- 2002 Inari, Finland
- 2004 Reykjavik, Iceland
- 2006 Salekhard, Russia
- 2009 Tromsø, Norway
- 2011 Nuuk, Greenland on May 12. The 2011 Nuuk meeting was the very first time the United States sent a representative, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
- 2013 Kiruna, Sweden, on May 15 with US Secretary of State John Kerry attending.
The secretariat 
Each rotating Chair nation accepts responsibility for maintaining the secretariat, which handles the administrative aspects of the Council, including organizing semiannual meetings, hosting the website, and distributing reports and documents. The Norwegian Polar Institute hosted the Arctic Council Secretariat for the six-year period from 2007 to 2013; this was based on an agreement between the three successive Scandinavian Chairs, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. This temporary Secretariat had a staff of three.
In 2012 the Council moved towards creating a permanent secretariat in Tromsø, Norway. It is currently searching for a director for the Secretariat. The selection will be made by the Council in autumn of 2012 with an expected start date of 1 February 2013.
In addition, the Arctic Council works through six Working Groups and four Programs and Action Plans:
- Arctic Monitoring & Assessment Programme (AMAP)
- Conservation of Arctic Flora & Fauna
- Emergency Prevention, Preparedness & Response(EPPR)
- Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME)
- Sustainable Development Working Group(SDWG)
- Arctic Contaminants Action Program (ACAP) (since 2006)
Programs and Action Plans
- Arctic Biodiversity Assessment
- Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program (CBMP)
- Arctic Climate Impact Assessment
- Arctic Human Development Report
See also 
- Think Again: The Arctic
- Koring, Paul (12 May 2011). "Arctic treaty leaves much undecided". Globe and Mail. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
- Canadian Chairmanship Program 2013-2015
- The Arctic Council
- The Norwegian, Danish, Swedish common objectives for their Arctic Council chairmanships 2006-2013:
- Suzanne Goldenberg (2013-05-10). "Obama undecided on Arctic Council expansion days before summit: Arctic region's international governing body will debate member status of 14 potential new members including China". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2013-05-12. Retrieved 2013-05-12. "China, despite its distance from the Arctic, has been steadily gaining a foothold in the region. The country sent an ice breaker through the Arctic last year, on a route that would cut shipping times to northern Europe by up to two weeks, compared to the traditional route through the Suez canal."
- Chairmanship Introduction
- Six non-arctic countries have been admitted as observers to the Arctic Council:
- India enters Arctic Council as observer
- Arctic Council: John Kerry steps into Arctic diplomacy
- SAO meeting November 2009
- Arctic Parliamentarians
- Northern Forum
- Association of World Reindeer Herders
- Aleut International Association
- Arctic Athabaskan Council
- Gwich'in Council International
- Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East
- Saami Council
- Terms, Reference and Guidlines[dead link]
- Indigenous rights outlined by UN
- Press briefing, Arctic Council Annual Meeting, Nuuk May 2011 Stop talking – start protecting 2012.
- Travel of Deputy Secretary Burns to Sweden and Estonia
- JOB POSTING: Director Arctic Council Secretariat
- Arctic Monitoring & Assessment Programme
- Conservation of Arctic Flora & Fauna (CAFF)
- Emergency Prevention, Preparedness & Response
- Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment
- The programme for the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME)
- Sustainable Development Working Group
- Arctic Contaminants Action Program (ACAP)
- Arctic Biodiversity Assessment