Finland’s Chairmanship theme “Exploring common solutions” links to two of the core areas of the Council’s work and the overarching framework topics chosen by Finland: sustainable development and climate change. “While we see pronounced effects of climate change in the Arctic, their causes are often linked to activities taking place outside the region. It was therefore our ambition to explore common solutions spanning beyond the high latitudes and to integrate Arctic issues in global frameworks”, states Ambassador Aleksi Härkönen, Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials.
Finland’s priority areas focused on finding common solutions related to environmental protection, meteorological cooperation, connectivity and education. These priorities are also reflected in the work of the Council’s subsidiary bodies and many of the projects and deliverables that will be presented at the upcoming Ministerial meeting. These include the following:
- The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) has investigated how climate change and pollution are impacting Arctic ecosystems and societies in new AMAP assessments of the Biological Effects of Contaminants on Arctic Wildlife and Fish and Arctic Ocean Acidification and its Arctic Climate Change Update 2019.
- The Arctic Contaminants and Action Program continued to look for solutions on how to reduce releases of short-lived climate pollutants, address issues related to hazardous waste and facilitate community monitoring, actively engaging with indigenous peoples and local communities. Albeit not Ministerial deliverables, the Circumpolar Local Environmental Observer network (CLEO) and the Black Carbon Case Studies are two examples for concrete outputs.'
- The Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna Working Group developed the “State of the Arctic Freshwater Biodiversity Report”, which gives an overview of the current status of the Arctic freshwater environment and provides insights to which trends will affect these ecosystems in future, and enters a second phase of work under its "Arctic Migratory Birds Initiative," which enhances cooperation between Arctic States and Observer States and Organizations.
- The Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response (EPPR) Working Group aimed at raising awareness on how an oil spill emergency affects small communities and how they can prepare to respond appropriately. For this purpose, EPPR developed a set of outreach videos on basic oil pollution response principles, planning for an initial community-based pollution response, and oil pollution risk and impacts to communities.
- The Protection of Arctic Marine Environment Working Group has completed a “Desktop Study on Marine Litter including microplastics in the Arctic”. This is the first circumpolar compilation of marine litter reports and studies and a step towards evaluating the scope of marine litter in the Arctic and next steps which include the development of a Regional Action Plan on marine litter in the Arctic.
- In addition to a wide range of projects on human health, Arctic food systems, renewable energy, resilience and gender equality, the Sustainable Development Working Group carried out a project relating to Finland’s thematic priority of education. This project emphasized the role of teachers as creators of a sustainable future in the Arctic and has paved the way for high-quality and culturally-relevant teacher education for the North. The deliverables to the Ministerial include a book “Including the North: A comparative study of the policies on inclusion and equity in the circumpolar north” and a set of recommendations on “Teacher Education for Diversity and Equality in the Arctic”.
- The Task Force on Improved Connectivity in the Arctic has compared the needs of those who live, operate, and work in the Arctic with the available infrastructure and worked with the telecommunications industry, the Arctic Economic Council, and the Permanent Participants. In its report “Improving Connectivity in the Arctic” the Task Force highlights that opportunities for improved connectivity are on the horizon, increasing connectivity, speed and coverage throughout the Arctic.
- The Task Force on Arctic Marine Cooperation received a new mandate and continued its work during the Finnish Chairmanship. In the “Recommendations by the Task Force on Arctic Marine Cooperation II” Senior Arctic Officials are assigned a central role in engaging in holistic discussions on marine issues with marine experts.
- The Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane is finalizing its second biennial “Summary of Progress and Recommendations” report, which summarizes national efforts to reduce emissions, shares best practices, and gives specific recommendations for further action.
In addition to their individual efforts, the Working Groups, Task Forces and Expert Groups have also strengthened their ties and collaboratively addressed issues. One emerging concern during the Finnish Chairmanship was wildfires. Since the destructive wildfire season of 2018, the topic was taken up by several Working and Expert Groups that bring in their specific expertise for an all-encompassing approach on how to tackle future wildfire seasons.
During the Finnish Chairmanship, the Arctic Council further began a close collaboration with the World Meteorological Organization and national meteorological institutes. This cooperation enhances meteorological and oceanographic observations in the Arctic. In turn, this will improve services and forecasting, benefitting people in the High North and lower latitudes, polar operators, businesses, and researchers.
These deliverables and initiatives are just a few among the many that will be presented for Ministerial review at the meeting in Rovaniemi.
The Ministerial meeting will be filmed and broadcasted via a live stream, which will be made available on the Arctic Council website and the website of the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.