By David Balton
Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials, Ambassador for Oceans and Fisheries, US Department of State
The Arctic region is receiving unprecedented attention. Although the region is both politically stable and peaceful, the nations and peoples of the Arctic today confront extraordinary challenges and opportunities, driven largely – though not exclusively – by a warming climate.
In these circumstances the Arctic Council has emerged as the premier forum in which the governments of the eight Arctic states, in partnership with six permanent participants that represent the indigenous peoples of the Arctic, strive together to understand, respond to and prepare for a quickly changing Arctic.
As the Arctic Council celebrates its 20th anniversary, we have already witnessed a remarkable evolution in its stature and reach. The Council has produced cuttingedge analyses to inform decisions at many levels. Its six standing working groups have completed a breathtaking range of projects and programs of direct benefit to Arctic residents and institutions. The Council has also established a permanent secretariat in Tromsø, Norway and has built – or is building – lasting partnerships with an impressive array of other bodies, including the newly established Arctic Economic Council.
In addition, the Council has served as a forum for the negotiation of two binding international agreements among the Arctic states on search and rescue, and marine oil pollution preparedness and response, and is likely to produce a third such agreement on scientific cooperation by 2017. The Council has thus contributed to a growing set of rules and norms for governing the Arctic.
The evolution of the Arctic Council has, in turn, raised questions about how it mayshaping capacity to address the new and emerging issues of the Arctic region? Are the structure and the procedures of the Arctic Council adequate to take on an expanding agenda? Does the Arctic Council have sufficient, predictable financing to carry out its growing mission? Will the Arctic Council’s permanent participants have the capacity to serve as true partners in the myriad activities? How can the Arctic Council best engage with its large and varied group of accredited observers?
As the current chair of the Senior Arctic Officials, I hope to guide the exceptional group of people who constitute the Arctic Council community toward answers to at least some of these questions before the end of the US chairmanship in 2017. By the time the Arctic Council gavel passes to Finland, I would like to be able to say that the United States fulfilled its ambition to strengthen the forum itself.