The Arctic Council is the leading intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States, Arctic indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues, in particular on issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic.
The Arctic Council is a high-level intergovernmental body set up in 1996 by the Ottawa declaration to promote cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States together with the indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants.
The formation of Arctic Council can be traced in the establishment of the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS)in 1991 as a framework for intergovernmental cooperation on environmental protection initiatives among the Arctic States including Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia, and the United States.
The Arctic Council works as a consensus-based body to deal with issues such as the change in biodiversity, melting sea ice, plastic pollution and black carbon.
The AEPS tried to consult and engage Arctic indigenous people in recognition of their right over their ancestral homelands.
Three Indigenous Peoples Organizations (IPOs) representing Inuit (Inuit Circumpolar Council, ICC), Saami (Saami Council, SC), and Russian indigenous peoples (Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, RAIPON), respectively, were welcomed as observers in the AEPS.
As a consequence of a growing recognition of the special relationship of indigenous peoples to the Arctic region, the Arctic countries assigned the special status of Permanent Participants (PPs) to the three IPOs, thereby giving them a privileged status compared to the other AEPS Observers.
Organisational Structure of the Arctic Council
The Council has the eight circumpolar countries as member states and is mandated to protect the Arctic environment and promote the economies and social and cultural well-being of the indigenous people whose organizations are permanent participants in the council.
Arctic Council Secretariat: The standing Arctic Council Secretariat formally became operational in 2013 in Tromsø, Norway.
It was established to provide administrative capacity, institutional memory, enhanced communication and outreach and general support to the activities of the Arctic Council.
The Council has members, ad hoc observer countries and “permanent participants”
Members of the Arctic Council: Ottawa Declaration declares Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States of America as a member of the Arctic Council.
Denmarks represents Greenland and the Faroe Islands.
Aleut International Association (AIA),
Arctic Athabaskan Council (AAC)
Gwich’in Council International (GCI)
Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC)
Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPN)
Observer status: It is open to non-Arctic states, along with inter-governmental, inter-parliamentary, global, regional and non-governmental organizations that the Council determines can contribute to its work. It is approved by the Council at the Ministerial Meetings that occur once every two years
Arctic Council Observers primarily contribute through their engagement in the Council at the level of Working Groups.
Observers have no voting rights in the Council.
As of 2022, thirteen non-Arctic states have Observer status.
United Kingdom, 1998
South Korea, 2013
Criterion for Admitting Observers
In the determination by the Council of the general suitability of an applicant for observer status the Council will, inter alia, take into account the extent to which observers:
Accept and support the objectives of the Arctic Council defined in the Ottawa declaration.
Recognize Arctic State’s sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the Arctic.
India has therefore officially recognised the territorial jurisdiction and sovereign rights of the Arctic states.
Recognize that an extensive legal framework applies to the Arctic Ocean including, notably, the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and that this framework provides a solid foundation for responsible management of this ocean.
India has also accepted the UNCLOS as the governing instrument for the Arctic implying that jurisdiction over both the continental shelf and maritime passage, and the resources of the ocean will primarily lay with the eight Arctic States.
Respect the values, interests, culture and traditions of Arctic indigenous peoples and other Arctic inhabitants.
Have demonstrated a political willingness as well as financial ability to contribute to the work of the Permanent Participants and other Arctic indigenous peoples.
Have demonstrated their Arctic interests and expertise relevant to the work of the Arctic Council.
Have demonstrated a concrete interest and ability to support the work of the Arctic Council, including through partnerships with member states and Permanent Participants bringing Arctic concerns to global decision making bodies.
Mechanism of the Council
The work of the Council is primarily carried out in six Working Groups.
Arctic Contaminants Action Program (ACAP): it acts as a strengthening and supporting mechanism to encourage national actions to reduce emissions and other releases of pollutants.
Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP): it monitors the Arctic environment, ecosystems and human populations, and provides scientific advice to support governments as they tackle pollution and adverse effects of climate change.
Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna Working Group (CAFF): it addresses the conservation of Arctic biodiversity, working to ensure the sustainability of the Arctic’s living resources.
Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response Working Group (EPPR): it works to protect the Arctic environment from the threat or impact of an accidental release of pollutants or radionuclides.
Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) Working Group: it is the focal point of the Arctic Council’s activities related to the protection and sustainable use of the Arctic marine environment.
Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG): it works to advance sustainable development in the Arctic and to improve the conditions of Arctic communities as a whole.
How does the Council Works?
Arctic Council assessments and recommendations are the result of analysis and efforts undertaken by the Working Groups. Decisions of the Arctic Council are taken by consensus among the eight Arctic Council States, with full consultation and involvement of the Permanent Participants.
The Chairmanship of the Arctic Council rotates every two years among the Arctic States. The first country to chair the Arctic Council was Canada (1996-1998).
Accomplishments of the Arctic Council
The Arctic Council regularly produces comprehensive, cutting-edge environmental, ecological and social assessments through its Working Groups.
The Council has also provided a forum for the negotiation of three important legally binding agreements among the eight Arctic States.
The first, the Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic, was signed in Nuuk, Greenland, at the 2011 Ministerial Meeting.
The second, the Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic, was signed in Kiruna, Sweden, at the 2013 Ministerial meeting.
Third, the Agreement on Enhancing International Arctic Scientific Cooperation, was signed in Fairbanks, Alaska at the 2017 Ministerial meeting.
India and the Arctic Council
India’s engagement with the Arctic began when it signed the Svalbard Treaty in 1920 in Paris between Norway, the US, Denmark, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Great Britain, and Ireland, and the British overseas Dominions and Sweden concerning Spitsbergen.
Spitsbergen is the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago, part of Norway, in the Arctic Ocean.
Spitsbergen is the only permanently inhabited part of Svalbard. More than 50% of the land is covered in ice year-round. Together with the glaciers, it is mountains and fjords that define the landscape.
Ever since then, India has been closely following the developments in the Arctic region in the light of the new opportunities and challenges emerging for the international community due to global warming induced melting of Arctic’s ice cap.
India’s interests in the Arctic region are scientific, environmental, commercial as well as strategic.
India launched its first scientific expedition to the Arctic Ocean in 2007 and opened a research base named “Himadri” at the International Arctic Research Base at Ny-Alesund, Svalbard, Norway in July 2008 for carrying out studies in disciplines like Glaciology, Atmospheric sciences & Biological sciences.
The major objectives of the Indian Research in Arctic Region are as follows:
To study the hypothesized tele-connections between the Arctic climate and the Indian monsoon by analyzing the sediment and ice core records from the Arctic glaciers and the Arctic Ocean.
To characterize sea ice in the Arctic using satellite data to estimate the effect of global warming in the northern polar region.
To conduct research on the dynamics and mass budget of Arctic glaciers focusing on the effect of glaciers on sea-level change.
To carry out a comprehensive assessment of the flora and fauna of the Arctic and their response to anthropogenic activities. In addition, it is proposed to undertake a comparative study of the life forms from both the Polar Regions
A major milestone in India’s scientific endeavors in the Arctic region has been achieved on the 23rd July, 2014 when a team of scientists from the ESSO-National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR) and the ESSO-National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) successfully deployed IndARC, the country’s first multi-sensor moored observatory in the Kongsfjorden fjord of the Arctic, roughly half way between Norway and the North Pole.
In July 2018, Ministry of Earth Sciences renamed the “National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research” to the “National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research.”
It is a nodal organisation coordinating the research activities at the stations at the poles.
India has also entered into MOU with Norwegian Polar Research Institute of Norway, for cooperation in science, and also with Kings Bay (A Norwegian Government owned company) at Ny-Alesund for the logistic and infrastructure facilities for undertaking Arctic research and maintaining Indian Research base ‘Himadri’ at Arctic region.
In March 2022, the Ministry of Earth Science has unveiled India’s Arctic Policy, titled ‘India and the Arctic: building a partnership for sustainable development’.
India holds one of the 13 positions as the Observer in the Arctic Council.
Major Provisions of India’s Arctic Policy
Six Central Pillars:
Science and research.
Economic and human development.
Transportation and connectivity.
Governance and international cooperation.
National capacity building.
It aims to strengthen national capabilities and competencies in science and exploration, climate and environmental protection, maritime and economic cooperation with the Arctic region.
It seeks to strengthen institutional and human resource capacities within the government and academic, research and business institutions through inter-ministerial coordination in pursuit of India’s interests in the Arctic.
It seeks to enhance understanding of the impact of climate change in the Arctic region on India’s climate, economic and energy security.
It aims to promote better analysis, prediction and coordinated policymaking on the implications of ice melting in the Arctic on India’s economic, military and strategic interests related to global shipping routes, energy security and exploitation of mineral wealth.
It seeks to study the linkages between polar regions and the Himalayas and deepen the cooperation between India and the countries of the Arctic region under various Arctic forums, drawing expertise from scientific and traditional knowledge.
The policy also seeks to increase India’s participation in the Arctic Council and improve understanding of the complex governance structures in the Arctic, relevant international laws and geopolitics of the region.
Relevance of Arctic for India?
The Arctic region is significant due to theshipping routes that run through it.
According to an analysis published by the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, the adverse effects of the Arctic are not just impacting the availability of mineral and hydrocarbon resources, but also transforming global shipping routes.
According to the Ministry of External Affairs, India can play a constructive role in securing a stable Arctic.
The region holds immense geopolitical importance as the Arctic is projected to be ice-free by 2050 and world powers making a beeline to exploit the region rich in natural resources.
What are the Commercial and Strategic Interests?
The Arctic region is very rich in minerals, and oil and gas. With some parts of the Arctic melting due to global warming, the region also opens up the possibility of new shipping routes that can reduce existing distances.
Countries already have ongoing activities in the Arctic hope to have a stake in the commercial exploitation of natural resources present in the region.
The Arctic Council does not prohibit the commercial exploitationof resources in the Arctic. It only seeks to ensure that it is done in a sustainable manner without harming the interests of local populations and in conformity with the local environment.
Therefore, to stay relevant in the Arctic region, India should take advantage of the observer status it has earned in the Arctic Council and consider investing more in the Arctic.
There are eight states in the Arctic Council. It includes Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States.
(a) an indigenously developed radar system inducted into Indian Defence (b) India’s satellite to provide services to the countries of the Indian Ocean Rim (c) a scientific establishment set up by India in the Antarctic region (d) India’s underwater observatory to scientifically study the Arctic region
Ans: (d) India’s underwater observatory to scientifically study the Arctic region