Arctic Circumpolar Governance

The Arctic Council

The council was formed in 1991 when the eight Arctic countries signed the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy. The Ottawa Declaration of 1996 formally established the Arctic Council as a high level intergovernmental forum for promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction between the Arctic States.

The eight countries involved are Canada, Denmark/Greenland, Norway, Russia and the United States as the five coastal states plus Iceland, Finland and Sweden. In addition to the member states there is a category of Permanent Participants to provide for active participation of and full consultation with the Arctic Indigenous people.

Observer status is open to

  • Non Arctic states
  • Intergovernmental and inter-parliamentary organisations, global and regional
  • Non- governmental organisations

There is an Observer Manua which outlines the conditions observers have to meet in order to watch the proceedings of the Council.

Why do you think that countries which do not have land in the Arctic should want to be a part of the Arctic Council?

The council has six working groups which hold regular meetings, they are:

The United Kingdom has a Permanent Observer Status on the Arctic Council.

Find out about the UK's engagement in the Arctic.

Observer status in the Arctic Council is open to:

  • Non-arctic states; Permanent Status
  • Non-Arctic states, Ad-hoc Status
  • Inter-governmental and inter-parliamentary organisations, global and regional;
  • Non-governmental organisations.

The Chairmanship of the Arctic Council rotates around the member countries every two years. The Arctic Council Ministerial Meetings are held biannually in the country holding the chairmanship. The working groups meet between isterial Meetings and produce their reports of their research assessments. The Arctic Governance Project will take into consideration the assessment reports to address issues of governance in an Arctic that is experiencing rapid and dramatic changes.

Make a list of the changes that are happening in the Arctic: what issues for governance do you think these will raise?

jurisdiction map

This is a map of the frequently overlapping boundaries, jurisdictions and claims of various countries in the Arctic, produced by Durham University's International Boundaries Research Unit. You can find more detail on their website, and there is also a downloadable pdf of the map with a detailed key and notes.

Why do you think the Arctic States are keen to clarify the extent of their jurisdictions?

There have been a number of binding agreements which have been agreed under the auspices of the Council and which link to the Polar Code.

Shipping in Polar waters

Search and Rescue

In Nuuk in 2011 an agreement was reached with an objective to strengthen aeronautical and maritime search and rescue cooperation and coordination in the Arctic. The some of the main points of the agreement suggested that:

  • Rescue co-ordination centres
  • Regular meetings between rescue agencies and preparing for joint rescue missions.
  • Development and use of common communication systems.
  • Outlined the exact areas under the jurisdiction of each country for the purposes of search and rescue.

The main rescue co-ordination centres are at

  • Canada - Joint Rescue Coordination Centre, Trenton;
  • Denmark - Maritime Rescue Coordination Center Grønnedal (MRCC Grønnedal); Rescue Coordination Center Søndrestrøm/Kangerlussuaq (RCC Søndrestrøm); Maritime Rescue and Coordination Center Torshavn (MRCC Torshavn);
  • Finland - Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre Turku (MRCC Turku); Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre Finland (ARCC Finland);
  • Iceland - Joint Rescue Coordination Center Iceland (JRCC Iceland);
  • Norway - Joint Rescue Coordination Centre, Northern Norway (JRCC NN Bodø);
  • Russian Federation - State Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (SMRCC); Main Aviation Coordination Center for Search and Rescue (MACC);
  • Sweden - Joint Rescue Coordination Center Gothenburg (JRCC Gothenburg); and
  • United States of America - Joint Rescue Coordination Center Juneau (JRCC Juneau); Aviation Rescue Coordination Center Elmendorf (ARCC Elmendorf)

Download a map of the Arctic. Use the map of the Arctic and an atlas plot these centres on the map. How well do you think they are located to cover the area of the Arctic Ocean?

Oil Spill Preparedness and Response

In Kiruna in 2013 Arctic Council States also signed a new, legally-binding Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic which will substantially improve procedures for combatting oil spills in the Arctic. Some of the main points of the agreement suggested:

  • Improvement in the detection of hazardous ice is in areas of off shore oil and gas operations and shipping.
  • Create a catalogue of all applicable oil and gas standards across the countries of the Arctic Council to identify best practice.
  • Conduct a circumpolar ris assessment to better link the sensitivities of the marine environment with scientific calculations
  • Facilitate oil spill prevention research and regulations to share information on best practice.
  • Ensure there is appropriate infrastructure for emerging Arctic shipping lanes

Look at the section on Nature's Riches in Resources from the Edge. Do you think these measures are enough?

The Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost Report

The Arctic Council commissioned the Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost Report in 2011. Find out more about this in Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost.

The Mercury in Health Report

The Mercury in Health Report was produced by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Working Group of the Arctic Council in 2011. It recommended:

  • There should be a legally binding agreement to control mercury emissions.
  • Efforts should be made to reduce human exposure to mercury.
  • Support of efforts made by countries which produce a lot of mercury emissions.

Go to Arctic Science - Science Challenge to find out more about:

  • Where mercury in the Arctic comes from
  • What happens to mercury entering the Arctic environment
  • How climate change influences Arctic mercury
  • What is happening to the levels of mercury in the Arctic
  • The impact of mercury contamination on human health in the Arctic


What do you think are the unique challenges for the Arctic States in co-operating over Arctic issues?


Home | 1: Climate change | 2: Living on the edge | 3: Arctic science | 4: Hunter or hunted? | 5: Postcard from the edge | 6: Troubled waters | 7: Resources from the edge | 8: Arctic Circumpolar Governance | 9: Snow, water, ice, permafrost | 10: Adapting to change

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