Senior Arctic Official René Söderman reviews the Finnish Chairmanship of the Arctic Council in his account of the SAO meeting in Ruka. The article was first published on the Ministry for Foreign Affairs website um.fi.
The last plenary meeting of the Finnish Chairmanship reviewed the reports and recommendations of the Arctic Council’s Working Groups, discussed cooperation between Working Groups and Observers, and prepared the Declaration of the Ministerial meeting. Representatives of all of the eight Arctic States and six Permanent Participant organisations representing indigenous peoples, as well as observers from Europe, Asia and international organisations, attended the meeting.
The Senior Arctic Officials reviewed the reports of the Working Groups, which dealt, among other topics, with the progression of climate change, the prevention of pollution risks, the reduction of black carbon emissions and the assessment of environmental impacts in the Arctic region. Owing to climate change, the average temperature in the Arctic region has risen by 2.7 degrees between 1971 and 2017.
Both good and bad news
Approximately one third of Arctic warming is caused by black carbon emissions from Member States of the Arctic Council. The Arctic Council’s efforts to curb black carbon emissions have encountered difficulties. The United States has withdrawn from common reduction goals, and Russia has not submitted its national calculations on black carbon emissions. The good news is that black carbon emissions have turned downward in the majority of Member States.
The Senior Arctic Officials approved the Arctic EIA (environmental impact assessment) Report, whose recommendations clarify the assessment of environmental impacts in the Arctic. In recognition of the Arctic EIA Report, a cooperation project led by the Ministry of the Environment of Finland, the Arctic Council was granted the Global Award of the International Association of Impact Assessment.
The Senior Officials were also informed of the Council’s work to improve communications in the Arctic. The Working Group recommended, among other things, that States develop their regulatory policies, provide incentives for infrastructure projects and clarify the regulation of the communications sector.
Collaboration to reduce the problem of marine litter
The Council’s Working Groups and Observers discussed cooperation to reduce marine litter and micro and nano plastics in Arctic ocean areas. The world’s oceans contain over 150 million tonnes of plastic waste, most of it from Asian countries. The transport of plastic waste and micro and nano plastics to oceans and the Arctic region can be reduced by improving waste management and control. In addition, the Senior Officials approved a policy outline whereby the Arctic Council will strengthen the handling of marine issues by inviting marine policy experts to its meetings.
Towards the Ministerial meeting in Rovaniemi
The Senior Officials were informed of preparations for the Arctic Council Ministerial meeting, to be held in Rovaniemi on 7 May. Foreign Ministers of the Member States and representatives of the Permanent Participant organisations representing indigenous peoples as well as observers at public servant level will be invited to the meeting. The intention is that a Ministerial Declaration will be signed and future guidelines for the Arctic Council will be decided at the meeting. At the meeting, the Chairmanship will be handed over from Finland to Iceland. During its Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, Iceland will focus on sustainable development, marine issues, sustainable energy solutions and human wellbeing.
Arctic Ambassador Aleksi Härkönen served as Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials. The Finnish delegation was led by Senior Arctic Official René Söderman. The delegation had representatives from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Finnish Meteorological Institute.
Senior Adviser, Senior Arctic Official
Photo: Kaisa Sirén.