The Arctic Council was founded in 1996 to bring together eight Arctic States and six Permanent Participants to address cooperation in the Arctic. The chair of the Council rotates every two years; it is currently held by Russia. The other seven countries – The US, Canada, Iceland, the Kingdom of Denmark (Greenland and Faroe Islands), Norway, Sweden, and Finland – issued a joint statement condemning “Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine” today, March 3, 2022.

In the joint statement, the nations write, “the core principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, based on international law, have long underpinned the work of the Arctic Council…In light of Russia’s flagrant violation of these principles, our representatives will not travel to Russia for meetings of the Arctic Council.  Additionally, our states are temporarily pausing participation in all meetings of the Council and its subsidiary bodies…”

As far as I can tell, there is no statement by the six Permanent Participants groups, four of which directly include Russian Indigenous Peoples (Aleut International Association, Inuit Circumpolar Council, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, and the Saami Council). The Permanent Participants have seats at the table but do not have formal voting rights.

The main subsidiary bodies of the Council are six scientific working groups, the:

  • Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP),
  • Protection of Arctic Marine Environment (PAME),
  • Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF),
  • Arctic Contaminants Action Program (ACAP),
  • Emergency Prevention, Preparedness, and Response (EPPR),
  • Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG),

as well as a 7th organization – the University of the Arctic (UArctic) – which supports cooperative educational and research endeavors amongst hundreds of universities and higher education programs in the circumpolar north and the greater world. There is also an expert group on Black Carbon and Methane.

The Russian chair response to the statement:

Dear Senior Arctic Officials, PP Heads of Delegation, Working Group Chairs and Executive Secretaries, Arctic Council Observers,

The Russian Chairmanship of the Arctic Council has taken note of a recommendation made by the seven other Arctic States and made a decision to temporarily pause the work of the Arctic Council and its subsidiary bodies until further notice.

The Russian Chairmanship remains open to the resumption of dialogue and cooperation within the Arctic Council in due time.

Nikolay Korchunov

Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials

The Council has, in its lifetime, ushered several important cooperative treaties into being on issues ranging from pollution and emergency response to scientific collaboration. Subjects prone to conflict, from fishing to security, have been off the table by design, so this is new and complex territory for the group.

At the same time, the release this week of the IPCC 6th Climate Change report on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability concludes, “The cumulative scientific evidence is unequivocal: Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.” The Polar Regions have their own cross-cutting chapter. The primary message is “Climate change impacts and cascading impacts in polar regions, particularly the Arctic, are already occurring at a magnitude and pace unprecedented in recent history (very high confidence), and much faster than projected for other world regions (high confidence).”

It should go without saying that Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is most terrible for the misery, death, and disruption it is bringing about on the ground in Ukraine. But Putin’s crimes are clearly not limited to the Ukrainian landscape. They include devastating delays in Arctic science and diplomacy aimed at saving the region and the planet’s health and ability to support us all.

Cover photo: The earth outside my window expressed clear preferences in support of Ukraine this morning. (C) Brooks Kaiser, 2022.