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Friday, 15 January 2021 00:00

The Arctic Council: its structure and role in international cooperation of Arctic States

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The Arctic Council is the leading intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States, Arctic Indigenous peoples and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues, in particular on issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic.

A legal basis of the Arctic Council activities consists of the 1996 Ottawa Declaration. It was signed by member governments of the AC, so called «Arctic States», included Canada, The Kingdom of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, The Russian Federation, Sweden, The United States in the count. The Arctic Council has no programming budget. All projects or initiatives are sponsored by Arctic States or other organizations.

The 1996 Ottawa Declaration also establishes regulations for permanent participants of the Arctic Council, which represent Arctic Indigenous peoples. Currently a number of permanent participants is constituted by Aleut International Association, Arctic Athabaskan Council, Gwich'in Council International, Inuit Circumpolar Council, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Saami Council.

The permanent participants are supported by the Indigenous Peoples Secretariat.

The functioning of the Arctic Council is being made in the framework of following working groups: Arctic Contaminants Action Program, Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna, Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response, Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment and Sustainable Development Working Group.

Declaration on the establishment of the Arctic Council (1996) opens an Observer status to non-arctic states, inter-governmental and inter-parliamentary organizations, global and regional organizations and also non-governmental organizations, which could make a contribution to the AC activity.

A particular place in functioning of the Council occupies its standing Secretariat, which establishing decision was made at the Ministerial meeting in Nuuk (2011). It must be noted that the Indigenous Peoples Secretariat became a certain structure of the standing Secretariat. In accordance with the document that allocates Arctic Council Terms of Reference, the aim of its institution was strengthening the capacity of the AC. To the scope of the AC regulation this document count as functions administrative and organizational support, communication and outreach, finance and Human Resources, other services and functions as may be required and directed by the Arctic Council and its Chair, possibility of translating the AC significant documents and information content from the Russian and into Russian language.

As accomplishments of the Arctic Council, it is highlighted the producing of comprehensive, cutting-edge environmental assessments dedicated to ecological and social issues. Nevertheless, it must be noted that the AC have no right to putting in force its recommendations, assessments and guidelines, and the liability of their implementation attaches to each Arctic State taken separately.

International cooperation remains as the one of key focus areas due to increasing competition, with not only Arctic States but also non-Arctic states. It must be underlined that one of goals of the AC establishment, according to the Ottawa Declaration, is provide a means for promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States, with the involvement of the Arctic indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues, in particular issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic. For the achievement of better interaction efficiency of the Arctic States, not a single decision can be made without reaching a consensus of all AC participating states. Furthermore, in the Arctic Council there is regular Chairmanship rotation: the Chairmanship is transferred to another state biennially.

The first country to chair the Arctic Council was Canada (1996-1998), followed by the United States, Finland, Iceland, Russia, Norway, the Kingdom of Denmark, and Sweden. The second cycle of Chairmanships began in 2013.

Iceland chairs the Arctic Council from 2019 to 2021, and the Russian Federation chairs from 2021 to 2023.


  1. Arctic Council Secretariat Terms of Reference. URI: https://oaarchive.arctic-council.org/handle/11374/1568.
  2. Ottawa Declaration (1996). URI: https://oaarchive.arctic-council.org/handle/11374/85.
  3.  https://arctic-council.org/en/about/.
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