The Arctic Council's Senior Arctic Officials (SAOs), representatives of Arctic indigenous organizations that have Permanent Participant status, and representatives of accredited observers met in Washington, D.C. November 18-19 under the chairmanship of the United States. More than 150 delegates actively discussed and debated cooperative measures to promote environmental protection and sustainable development in the Arctic region. Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Frank Loy welcomed delegates to Washington and presented a letter of welcome and support for the meeting by U.S. President Clinton. Mr. Loy further outlined the United States' interests and priorities in Arctic cooperation, as well as goals to accomplish before the Council's next Ministerial Meeting in the fall of 2000. Vladimir Goman, Chairman of the Russian State Committee for Northern Affairs (GosKomSever), addressed the meeting, emphasizing the importance that Russia attaches to the Council and its activities.
The SAOs received updates on and discussed cooperation with other initiatives in the northern region on a governmental level, including those of the European Union, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, the Nordic Council of Ministers, Council of the Baltic Sea States, and the Northern Europe Initiative. The Northern Forum furthermore gave a presentation regarding the role of regional governments in achieving the goals of the Arctic Council. The common interests which emerged during the meeting highlighted the need for increased international cooperation.
The Arctic Council is a high-level intergovernmental forum established in 1996. The eight Member States of the Arctic Council are Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States. Permanent Participant status is currently held by the Aleut International Association, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, and the Saami Council. Finland announced that it will offer to host the Arctic Council after the U.S. chairmanship ends in the fall of 2000. SAOs welcomed Finland's offer.
Chairs from each of the Council's working groups reported on progress their groups have made towards fulfilling their mandates set forth by Arctic Council Ministers in Iqaluit, Canada, on September 18, 1998. Four of the groups, AMAP (Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program), CAFF (Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna), EPPR (Emergency Prevention, Preparedness, and Response), and PAME (Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment), address environmental issues such as contaminants, conservation of living resources, marine pollution prevention, and environmental threats.
Delegations reviewed plans to further develop an Arctic Council Action Plan to eliminate pollution of the Arctic (ACAP), a key initiative that identifies priority actions for reduction of emissions of contaminants and clean-up, including various heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants. It will recommend measures to be undertaken at the global, regional, and national levels to carry this out. Delegations also heard an update on efforts to develop a proposal to Ministers on an Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), which aims to be a comprehensive effort by the Arctic Council to examine the effects of global climate change and increased ultraviolet (UV) radiation on the Arctic region.
SAOs agreed it is essential to continue to encourage Arctic States and other signatories to the UNECE Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution to ratify the Protocols on Persistent Organic Pollutants and Heavy Metals and to work towards the entry into force and implementation of the Protocols at the earliest possible date. In addition, SAOs encouraged cooperation by Arctic States to assist in reaching a global agreement on POPs as soon as possible, as agreed by Arctic Council Ministers at their meeting in Iqaluit in September, 1998.
The Council's Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG) met on November 17. Lead countries and Permanent Participants reported on progress they have made in such areas as improving the health and well-being of Arctic children and youth, managing regional fisheries, and assessing prospects for expanded use of telemedicine on a circumpolar basis. In conjunction with these reports, the United States organized an exhibit of the efforts of several U.S. agencies in the field of telemedicine. The working group endorsed the project on the promotion of cultural and eco-tourism. It also received an update on the progress on the comparative Survey of Living Conditions in the Arctic and discussed ideas for capacity building among Arctic residents.
The SDWG heard presentations and proposals on other health issues such as emerging infectious diseases, occupational health and safety in the fishing industry, and the health and environmental needs of indigenous communities. The National Science Foundation reviewed social science work in the Arctic, calling attention to several international joint projects and the participation of indigenous communities in such research.
The SDWG also discussed common themes and possible priorities for the Council's sustainable development program. The discussion advanced efforts to draft a framework document to guide its activities. The Nordic Council of Ministers made a thorough presentation of its work related to the Arctic.
Public Awareness, Education and Outreach
A Council priority is public outreach concerning Arctic issues within its mandate. Delegations were briefed on the Arctic Council Web Site (www.arctic-council.org), the Arctic Environmental Data Directory, and the Arctic Environmental Atlas.
The next Senior Arctic Officials meeting will take place in the April 26-28, 2000 in Fairbanks, Alaska. Further information is available from the Arctic Council Secretariat, located in the U.S. Department of State.
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