The Arctic covers an enormous area, one-sixth of the Earth's land mass - over 30 million square kilometres and 24 time zones. Its population of about four million includes more than 30 different indigenous peoples and dozens of languages. The natural resources of the Arctic region, particularly its living resources, are both vast and valuable. The Arctic also encompasses some of the last large areas of unspoiled natural environment in our part of the world. At the same time the region faces considerable challenges related to climate change, pollution and increased exploitation of natural resources.
Founded in 1996 in Ottawa, Canada, the Arctic Council is our most important regional collaborative body in the north, a high-level consultative forum. The Council is the only such body to include all eight Arctic countries: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, USA, Canada and Russia. Indigenous peoples are also represented.
The purpose of the Arctic Council is to promote cooperation and coordination between the Arctic states, with emphasis on environmental protection and sustainable development. Monitoring and mapping of environmental conditions in the Arctic are central. The results of this work have been of great importance for international cooperation on environmental issues, particularly climate change and transboundary pollution. Efforts to reduce pollution have led to concrete projects and results, most notably in Russia.
The chairmanship rotates between the member countries. Norway led the Arctic Council from 2006 to 2009 and was followed by Denmark, which has the chairmanship until 2011. Under the Norwegian chairmanship, cooperation on climate change in the Arctic and a common approach to integrated management of natural resources were priorities. These themes are also important under the Danish chairmanship.
In 2008 Norway launched the Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic (SWIPA) project as a follow-up to the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) report of 2004, an impressive review of all available knowledge on climate change in the Arctic. The aim of the SWIPA project is to collect and assess existing knowledge about changes in the Arctic cryosphere, including the impact of climate change on ice, snow and permafrost. Its report is to be completed in time for the Arctic Council's ministerial meeting in 2011 as the Council's contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the IPCC, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
During the Norwegian chairmanship the Arctic Council initiated and carried out a number of other projects, including an assessment of the Arctic countries' ocean management systems, edited and published as the report "Observed Best Practices". The experience of preparing a Norwegian management plan for the Barents Sea was significant here. Another important marine environment project evaluates environmental status and trends in the Arctic in relation to various measures for the conservation and sustainable use of the Arctic sea areas. In connection with climate change, a project has been launched analyzing the effect of short-lived greenhouse gases. A comprehensive report on the status of biodiversity in the Arctic (Arctic Biodiversity Assessment) is in its final phase.
The Arctic Council currently has its secretariat in Tromsø. This was arranged during the Norwegian chairmanship, which has been keen to strengthen the organization, for the period 2006-2012 in cooperation with Denmark and Sweden. Following a Norwegian initiative, the Arctic Council has agreed to meetings at state secretary level in between the ministerial meetings that take place every other year.
Work under the Arctic Council carried out by six working groups:
For information see the Arctic Council website