WWF-Canada Blog:

Canada prepares to take the lead at the Arctic Council

Movements are afoot here in Ottawa and across the country, as Canada prepares to take its turn as Chair of the Arctic Council.  Founded in Ottawa in 1996, this is an intergovernmental forum comprising the eight Arctic nations: Canada, United States, Denmark (Greenland), Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia.  The Arctic Council has a unique governance structure that includes a number of international Indigenous peoples’ organizations as permanent participants, giving them unprecedented access to the meetings and decision-making processes of the Arctic Council.  Permanent participants that are active in the Canadian Arctic include the Inuit Circumpolar Council, as well as the Arctic Athabaskan Council and Gwich’in Council International.  There are also a number of observers, and WWF stands out as the only circumpolar environmental NGO with observer status, which was granted to us shortly after the Arctic Council was founded.

A narwhal (Monodon monoceros) surfacing for breath in the Arctic, Canada. © Paul Nicklen/National Geographic Stock / WWF-Canada

The Council works on issues of circumarctic significance.  In recent years, it has gradually matured and evolved from an information-gathering organization into a policy-setting one.  At the last Arctic Council Ministerial meeting in 2011, an agreement was concluded on search and rescue measures.  This is a classic circumarctic issue, where search and rescue facilities are few and far between, so a mishap in one region may require coordinated international efforts.

Likewise, the coming Ministerial meeting in May 2013 is expected to result in an agreement on oil spill preparedness and response. This meeting will also be significant in that it marks the beginning of Canada’s second two-year stint as Chair of the Arctic Council (the eight states take turns in chairing the organization).  This summer, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that Canada’s Chair of the Arctic Council will be the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, who is the Health Minister as well as the Northern Minister in the current government.  It is somewhat unusual for a sitting Minister to be appointed Chair of the Council, and it indicates how important this role is to Canada.

One of the first things that Minister Aglukkaq did was to convene a series of Roundtables in Canada’s territorial capitals (Iqaluit, Whitehorse, and Yellowknife) to hear the views of northerners about possible priorities for the coming two years.  With offices in Inuvik and Iqaluit, WWF was pleased to be invited to participate, and Dan Slavik participated in the Yellowknife Round table on our behalf.  You can read his blog about the event here .

We also responded to the invitation to contribute written submissions, and we put forward six ideas for consideration, all of them tied to the theme of “Development for the People of the North”:

  1. –Implement adequate measures to prevent oil spills and respond effectively when they happen
  2. –Launch a pilot project to look at transboundary approaches to Ecosystem-Based Management in the Beaufort Sea
  3. –Investigate possible new financial instruments to support sustainable Arctic development
  4. –Ensure the broad application of best practices for safe and environmentally sound Arctic shipping
  5. –Support actions to reduce emissions of black carbon
  6. Develop strategies to support ecosystem and community resilience in a rapidly changing climate


You can read our submission here .

The coming months promise to be busy ones in Ottawa and across the Arctic, as the Government of Canada prepares to take on this important role, and WWF will be there, adding its conservation voice to the proceedings.