The Arctic Council, an international forum consisting of eight countries, granted permanent observer status to six nations on Wednesday and sent a clear message that the polar region is of increasing worldwide importance. The council’s permanent members are: the U.S., Russia, Canada, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, and Denmark–including Greenland and the Faroe Islands. The new observer members are China, India, Singapore, Italy, Japan, and South Korea.
The purpose of the council is to discuss and coordinate issues having to do with the Arctic region. Discussions include political, economic, environmental, and scientific concerns such as environmental protection, climate change, shipping, and respecting the indigenous people. The council was formed in 1996 but was considered by many to be a way for scientists and researchers to exchange information. It has become an important voice in light of the access created by melting ice for trade routes and offshore petroleum reserves. Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide summed up the Arctic Council’s role by saying it’s “the central organ in the whole world when it comes to Arctic issues.”
The council meets every two years. This meeting was in Kiruna in northern Sweden. US Secretary of State John Kerry was there representing the United States. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt chaired the meeting and praised the addition of the new observer members, noting that their inclusion “strengthens the position of the Arctic Council on the international scene.”
Greenland boycotted the meeting after Sweden would not accept Denmark, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands as three separate voting members. Prior to 2011, when Sweden took over the chairmanship of the council, each of the three countries in the Danish Commonwealth had a vote. Now, they are only allowed one vote. The chairmanship will go to Canada for another two years.
Permanent observers do not have voting rights in the Arctic Council, but they are expected to abide by the rules and be willing to contribute to the work of the permanent members. It is expected that the council will also grant observer membership to the European Union in a few months after a dispute with Canada is resolved over seal hunting.
Written by: Cynthia Collins, Guardian Correspondent
Source: Google news