Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting: Working in the 11th Hour to Agree On Joint Declaration

The negotiations about a joint declaration are demanding. The eight Arctic states met in Ruka, Finland in March for an SAO meeting, however, they did not conclude the negotiations, which are still ongoing. SAO’s in front, observers in the back. (Photo: Kaisa Sirén/Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Less than two weeks to go before the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting, there is still much diplomatic work that remains before there is agreement on a ‘Rovaniemi declaration’.

The Arctic Council has developed a tradition of closing every presidency with a joint declaration that is to stake out the course for the next two-year period of the Council’s work and its priorities.

The so-called Fairbanks Declaration, marking the transition from American to Finnish chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2017, was only finished in the very last minute, following a dramatic lead-up in the negotiations between the eight Arctic states.

Demanding process

The is much that goes to indicate that it may be a demanding process this time around too.

The Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting, during which the chairmanship is transferred from Finland to Iceland, is to take place in Rovaniemi, Finland on 6 and 7 May.

- We are still in negotiation mode, confirms Bård Ivar Svendsen, Norway’s Senior Arctic Official. He continues:

- There is no doubt that negotiations are demanding. We had a long meeting in Finland in March during which we made some progress, however, there are still issues remaining. We have to work out both a strategy and a declaration, and the two are obviously related. We will probably work up until and during the ministerial meeting in order to reach our goal.

Climate An Achilles’ Heel

Arctic Council negotiations are consensus based, which means that all eight member states must agree in order for a decision to be made. In Fairbanks, Alaska in 2017, the Trump administration tried to weaken a formulation in the declaration about climate changes, climate gas emissions and renewable energy, which muddled the work on the declaration.

It is important from the Norwegian side that a strong and unequivocal reference is made to climate changes.
Bård Ivar Svendsen

Svendsen does not want to comment on whether the same issues are a recurring problem this time around too, however, he confirms that the reference to the climate issue is a rallying point for Norway:

- It is important from the Norwegian side that a strong and unequivocal reference is made to climate changes, as well as references to international obligations under e.g. the UN, he says.

Should not be undermined

In 2017, one finally succeeded in having the Fairbanks Declaration approved with its embracing of the Paris Accord, as well as formulations such as “we are worried about climate changes” and “wanting to encourage more research in the area”.

- What has changed since then, is that we have received the results of this research, which goes to prove that there is every reason in the world to be worried. That is why we from the Norwegian side will fight for a strong message about having to take climate changes seriously, and certainly not weaker than in the Fairbanks Declaration, Svendsen says.

And while negotiations are on-going, he remains optimistic:

- Yes, we are trying to use every channel there is to arrive at a result on which all countries can agree. Yes, the Fairbanks Declaration was a demanding process, and with less than two weeks to go before the Rovaniemi meeting, there is still a lot of diplomatic work remaining in order to secure a positive outcome.

Senior Arctic Officials, Permanent Participant Heads of Delegation and Arctic Council Secretariat Director with SAO Chair Aleksi Härkönen. (Photo: Kaisa Sirén/Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Bård Ivar Svendsen praises the achievements of the Finnish presidency of the past two years.

- Finland has done an excellent job building bridges, and they have been good at identifying and accommodating the various countries’ views. They have also done outstanding work in facilitating better for the observers, which I know is appreciated. Finally, I would also like to emphasise the strengthening of the connection between the Arctic Council and the Arctic Economic Council (AEC). Better cooperation with northern businesses is also important from a Norwegian point of view.

Expectations

Now, Iceland is next in line for the chairmanship. And Norways Senior Arctic Official has clear expectations as to which priorities should be made:

- We both expect and hope for Iceland to make the ocean a priority. There is increasing attention to the importance of a sustainable blue economy, also from our PM Erna Solberg, so it would suit Norway quite well.

Bård Ivar Svendsen emphasizes in closing that there is also much excellent work performed in the working groups of the Arctic Council and that this deserves attention, and points out e.g. the working groups on ocean and social economic development.

- The research that is conducted bears fruit, and specific results have been achieved that will be submitted to the Council in May.

 

This article originally appeared in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.

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