Arctic Council Should Look to Sub-National Actors


By The Maritime Executive 2017-05-10 19:53:43

The Arctic Institute has released a policy brief airing its concerns about the U.S. Administration's role in the Arctic Council and calling for participation from sub-national actors. 

The move cones as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hands over the Arctic Council Chairmanship to Finland in Fairbanks, Alaska, on Thursday. 

Thursday's Council meeting marks the end of two years of American leadership in the Arctic, and the policy brief states that it will be difficult to foster transatlantic cooperation between the U.S. under Trump and other Arctic States around the stated Finnish focus of the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals. 

The brief encourages the Arctic Council to consider increasing the involvement of sub-national governments, like Alaska, in the Council’s work. The Institute says that sub-national actors are the way forward:

 * Rather than continuing to appeal for U.S. support for climate change and sustainable development initiatives at the ministerial level, it may prove more effective to engage subnational actors on these important issues in the years to come.
 * The national inertia created by the Trump Administration when it comes to the Arctic’s most pressing issues may prove an opportunity to rethink the framework within which the Arctic Council operates and ultimately lead to a more inclusive, efficient structure.
 * By including regional governments in Arctic Council meetings and empowering them to implement Arctic Council initiatives outside of the direct management of national governments, progress on climate change could be maintained despite a lack of commitment from national governments.

Victoria Herrmann, President and Managing Director of the Institute, stated: “With the effects of climate change becoming increasingly dramatic in the region, the U.S. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council came at a crucial moment, and the Obama Administration’s ambitious efforts largely rose to meet that challenge. Their achievements, most notably the GLACIER Conference and the initiatives that followed, constituted a considerable leap forward in America’s commitments to Alaska, to the Arctic and to the Council.”

“However, the U.S. will end its leadership of the Arctic Council without an official statement by the current administration about its national Arctic policy stance, without a plan to engage with the region after the Chairmanship returns to Europe for the next 12 years, and, unfortunately, without an Arctic Special Representative,” said Hermann. 

(In January 2017, Admiral Papp stepped down from his position to take a Washington-based lobbying job at the Eastern Shipbuilding Group.)

Herrmann contines: “The transition from the Obama Administration’s One Arctic vision to President Trump’s America First agenda has left Arctic states unsure of how, and to what extent, the U.S. will actively contribute to the ambitions of the Finnish Chairmanship and engage in the Council. While Secretary of State Tillerson will participate in the Ministerial Meeting in Fairbanks, there is skepticism that his presence will translate to sustained interest in the region and to Finland’s goal of implementing the Paris Agreement.”

Altering the Arctic Council to include sub-national representatives has gained traction in recent years. In the 2015 and 2016 Arctic Yearbook publications, several authors advocated for expanding the Council’s framework to include regional and local representatives. The arguments focused in part on the special status of indigenous organizations and encouraged a comparable position for northern sub-national actors like Alaska, Greenland, the Canadian territories, Nordic municipalities and Russia’s republics.

The Yukon Government’s 2009 Climate Action Plan is just one example of sub-national action, says Herrmann. The plan was created and released at a time when the national government of Canada refused to act or acknowledge climate

The policy brief is available here.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.