Arctic Council working groups resume activities | Polarjournal
The Arctic Council’s functioning depends very much on the working groups, as they actually carry out the Council’s activities and organise projects and programmes that are adopted at ministerial level. (Photo: Arctic Council, Gunnar Vigfusson)

Ever since Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the Arctic Council has been de facto almost paralysed, as an ice age has largely prevailed between Russia and the seven other member states. Now, at the end of February, the members decided that life should be restored at least at the working group level, albeit mainly virtually.

The eight permanent members of the Arctic Council, together with the permanent participating representatives of indigenous organizations, have decided to resume meetings at working group level. For the time being, however, these meetings will only take place virtually so as not to circumvent the travel restrictions and sanctions against Russia. Nevertheless, this will ensure that “that the Council can continue to deliver on its mandate as the preeminent forum for circumpolar collaboration on issues of environmental protection and sustainable development in the Arctic,” as the Council members explain in a joint statement. The first meetings are due to start again in the next three to four months.

Norway holds chairmanship of the Council since 2023 and is represented by Morten Høglund. The resumption of the meetings is a great success for him. However, there is still no reason to be overly cheerful, as it is not yet clear what will happen at ministerial level. (Photo: Arctic Council)

The decision to hold the meetings at least virtually again and thus enable the working groups to function in practice was reached after lengthy negotiations. For Norway, which took over the Council Presidency from Russia in 2023, and its representative Morten Høglund, the whole thing is a great success. For Norway took over a Council that was divided and had been unable to take any decisions or find solutions to the urgent problems facing the Arctic states since March 2022.”With just over one year left of the Norwegian Chairship, I am very pleased that Working Groups can take more steps to advance their projects and initiatives for delivery at the end of our Chairship. This is critical in enabling the Council to effectively respond to rapid climate change and other urgent issues impacting the region and beyond.” says Morten Høglund.

In addition to the eight permanent Council members and the six permanently participating indigenous representative organizations, the Arctic Council also consists of six working groups, with which representatives of the observer states are also integrated into the Council, so that they are indirectly involved in the Council’s projects and plans. (Graphic: Arctic Council Secretariat)

The representatives of the indigenous organizations, who are permanent members of the Council, are particularly pleased with this step towards a Council that is once again operational. This is because they need the Council more than any other representative in order to make their concerns and problems heard and to develop solutions that have been developed together with them over the long term. “The resumption of virtual meetings of the Arctic Council working groups is an important step in maintaining and advancing the strong partnerships that have been built over decades, as well as the full and effective participation of Arctic Indigenous Peoples in the work of the Arctic Council,” says Sara Olsvig, Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council.

Switzerland’s representative to the Arctic Council, Ambassador Alexandra Baumann, is very pleased that Swiss scientists will once again be able to make their valuable contributions to the working groups. Image: DFA

The observer states in the Arctic Council should also be pleased with the current solution, as they can now once again contribute to decision-making on the problems in the Arctic. Switzerland, which was the last country to join the Arctic Council as an observer, is also represented by experts in several working groups. Ambassador Alexandra Baumann, Switzerland’s representative and Head of the “Prosperity and Sustainability” Division at the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, told Polar Journal: “Switzerland welcomes the decision to gradually resume the official meetings of the Arctic Council working groups, which the eight Arctic states and the representatives of the indigenous peoples have reached by consensus.”

“As part of Switzerland’s observer status in the Arctic Council, several Swiss scientists are involved in the various working groups. I am delighted that, after a two-year break, they can resume their valuable contributions to the pressing issues in the Arctic region, such as environmental protection and sustainable development.

Will the Arctic Council be able to act again? Not exactly, as although two of the three pillars of the Council, the indigenous organisations and the working groups, can resume their activities and exchanges and tackle the urgent problems, the Council remains divided in the end. After all, at the political level, the opposite of what threatens the Arctic the most, namely global warming, still prevails.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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