Thursday, May 16, 2013
At its biannual meeting in Sweden yesterday, the Arctic Council officially approved observer status for six new States including China, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Singapore. However, it deferred the application of the European Union (EU) to become a member (the deferral is attributed to a dispute between Canada and the EU over the seal fur trade). Certain non-Arctic European States are already members, including Germany, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom. These Observer States will participate overseeing the exploitation and conservation of the polar cap.
The regular voting members of the Arctic Council include Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States. Canada will take over the council chairmanship from Sweden on Wednesday.
Interest in the region is at an all time high as the ice melts and opens up new shipping routes and possibilities for exploration and exploitation of natural resources such as oil and gas. Environmental groups are concerned that the rush to exploit those resources will harm the environment. The Arctic Council is trying to balance those interests and yesterday signed a declaration stating it would aim to protect the environment and indigenous populations but also noting “the central role of business in the development of the Arctic.” U.S. Secretary of State Kerry emphasized in his remarks to the press that the United States recognizes its major role as an emission-producing country and is concerned about climate change and the impact on the Arctic environment. He pledged to do more at home and abroad in conjunction with other members of the Arctic Council to address those concerns.