The Arctic is home to about 4 million people and comprises territories of eight sovereign States. Its population has the same right to sustainable development as the rest of the world, including the right to social and economic development through the sustainable use of their natural resources.
.Iceland has a unique position among the eight Member States of the Arctic Council since the entire country and a large part of its territorial waters lie within the boundaries of the Arctic region. Arctic issues touch nearly every aspect of Icelandic society and are a key foreign policy priority.
For the government, it is of paramount importance to maintain peace and stability in the region in line with the international rules-based order, to protect the Arctic environment and ecosystems and to ensure sustainable social and economic development.
Building a green and an inclusive future in the region
.Pollution and the effects of warming temperatures pose a variety of threats to biodiversity and the livelihoods of Arctic communities. Unlike the Antarctic, the Arctic is home to about 4 million people and comprises territories of eight sovereign States. Its population has the same right to sustainable development as the rest of the world, including the right to social and economic development through the sustainable use of their natural resources. Furthermore, they should have an active role in building a green and an inclusive future in their region.
Just like many other communities in the High North, Iceland depends to a substantial extent on the sustainable use of living marine resources. The maintenance of a healthy marine environment and ecological balance is therefore of utmost importance. The impact of climate change on marine ecosystems is a complex scientific issue as it is not only a question about rising ocean temperatures and displaced fish stocks, but also a question of acidification, influx of freshwater and changes in ocean currents that affect biodiversity and the food chain.
It is expected that many places in the Arctic will have experienced warming of several degrees Celsius by mid-century. Arctic communities need to adapt to this new reality in a sustainable way. These challenging changes also entail new possibilities e.g., in terms of transport and tourism and with exploitation of natural resources.
.All land territory in the Arctic region is under the jurisdiction of sovereign States or is governed by a specific jurisdictional agreement. The Arctic Ocean is governed by international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. In the central Arctic Ocean, the seabed that lies beyond the continental shelf claims of any Arctic State that is governed by Part XI of UNCLOS and maritime boundary disputes have so far been or are being resolved through established international processes.
The Arctic Council, although a forum for cooperation among the eight Arctic States and not a formal international organization, has proven to be an effective mechanism for Arctic governance. Since its creation in 1996, it has become the most important multinational forum for Arctic issues. Under the auspices of the Council, three legally binding international agreements were negotiated: the Agreement for Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic (2011), the Agreement on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic (2013), and the Agreement for Strengthening International Scientific Cooperation in the Arctic (2017). The Council’s assessments and recommendations have further contributed to various international frameworks of interest to the Arctic, including the International Maritime Organization’s Polar Code. Arctic and non-Arctic States also worked together to negotiate the International Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fishing in the Central Arctic Ocean (2018).
The Arctic: a low-intensity region
.Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made a major dent in the Arctic agenda. Norway will take over the chairmanship from Russia in May and it is yet to be seen how the cooperation will develop. Since mid-last year, the seven like-minded Member States and indigenous peoples’ organizations have resumed work on projects where Russia was not one of the partners. It is in all the Arctic states’ long-term interest that the Arctic Council remain the main framework for Arctic cooperation. Regional cooperation on common Arctic issues in the Council has remained good and constructive throughout the years, and there was consensus amongst the Arctic States that tensions between them elsewhere in the world would not be allowed to affect the Arctic cooperation. However, when the chairing State of the Council dealt a severe blow to the UN Charter and brutally violated the most fundamental of international law, it was unthinkable it would not affect the work of the Arctic Council. Increased geostrategic interest in the region have raised concerns about the evolving security environment. A greater military presence in the region has been noted – in particular, the Russian military build-up, in and around the Arctic. In addition, increasingly frequent Russian incursions into the North Atlantic was notable prior to its invasion of Ukraine.
Iceland has always stressed the importance of maintaining the Arctic as a region of low intensity, peace, and stability. That is as important now as ever before.
The Arctic Council does not deal with military security issues, as was explicitly specified when it was established. They are dealt with in other forums, such as NATO, which has a clear role to play in Arctic security and stability.
Poland has a role in the Arctic
.Three EU members are members of the Arctic Council, six others are observers of the Council, including Poland, since 1998. Poland is an active and appreciated observer in the Council. It also contributes to polar scientific research which is important for fact-based policymaking and the overall well-being of the people living in the Arctic today and in the future. The Warsaw Format Meeting created in 2010 is an effective platform for the Observer States to engage with the Arctic Council. Iceland strongly supports continued and regular use of this format under future chairmanships. Lastly, the Arctic Council’s 10-years Strategic Plan approved by the Arctic Ministers at the 2021 Reykjavik Ministerial meeting, lays out seven goals, that each have practical action points to implement; action points that require international and multistakeholder partnerships to execute. The newly established Embassy of Iceland in Warsaw provides an excellent opportunity for strengthening this sort of cooperation.
Unnur Orradóttir Ramette