On June 14, 1991, after several years of meetings between government officials of Canada, Denmark [which administers Greenland], Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the United States and the USSR, the political representatives of these eight arctic countries signed the Rovaniemi declaration on the protection of the arctic environment and agreed to establish an Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy [AEPS]. The Inuit Circumpolar conference [ICC], Nordic Sami Council, and USSR Association of Small Peoples of the North participated in preparing the strategy and were accorded observer status.
The AEPS has addressed four themes: monitoring and assessment of contaminants, protection of the marine environment, emergency preparedness and response, and conservation of arctic flora and fauna. Reports of the former Soviet Union's past dumping of radioactive and other hazardous materials into the Arctic Ocean and the Russian Federation's request for assistance in their cleanup was an especially important factor leading to the establishment of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program [AMAP]. Concern over conservation led to the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna [CAFF] working group.
In September 1993, environmental ministers representing the same eight arctic nations convened in Nuuk, Greenland, to assess the first two years of the AEPS and define future priorities. Of particular interest were the recent revalations that at least 17 nuclear reactors had been dumped in the Arctic Ocean by the Russian military. At this meeting, the ministers also endorsed a broadening of the AEPS to include a task force on 'sustainable development,' designed to address deep concerns of northern indigenous peoples and the many environmental organizations whose focusincluded the Arctic.
In September 1996, ministers of the eight arctic governments again met and signed another declaration establishing an Arctic Council. Also included as Permanent Participants of the Council are the three indigenous groups: the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, the Saami Council; and the Indigenous Minorities of the Russian North, Far East, and Siberia. Provision has been made for other indigenous groups to join in the future.
The purpose of the Council is to provide a high-level policy forum for discussion of environmental and other non-military issues of common concern to the arctic-rim countries as well as carry forward the science-based programs of the AEPS. The Council is also charged with linking environmental research to issues relating to sustainable development - including economic and social development, improved health, and cultural 'well-being.' Canada is hosting the Arctic Council for the first two years. the United States is expected to assume the chair for the following two years.
What follows are a series of declarations, position papers, and articles addressing this recent effort at international cooperation in the Arctic region. Further expositions will be added as they become available. Readers are also encouraged to share their ideas and experiences pertaining to these arctic policies by participating in our Natural Resources discussion group which will be on line shortly.