Report by Pauline Snoeijs-Leijonmalm, Observer for IASC
Helsinki, Finland, 14-15 September, 2017

The Arctic Council (AC) is a high-level intergovernmental forum that addresses issues faced by the Arctic governments and the indigenous people of the Arctic region. Marine issues are high on the agenda of the AC and the Task force on Marine Cooperation was installed by the AC Ministers to strengthen Arctic Marine Cooperation.

The first Task Force (TFAMC-I, 2015-2017) had the mandate to assess future needs for a regional seas program or other mechanism, as appropriate, for increased cooperation in Arctic marine areas.

The new Task Force (TFAMC-II, 2017-2019) is a continuation of TFAMC I and has the mandate to present terms of reference for a possible new subsidiary body within the AC, and recommendations for complementary enhancements to existing AC mechanisms, for consideration by Ministers in 2019. The chair of TFAMC II is Anita Mäkinen (Finland) and the co-chairs are Jóhann Sigurjónsson (Iceland) and Gabriel Swinny (USA).

The 53 participants in the meeting consisted of delegations from ministries in the Arctic countries (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, USA), Permanent Participants (Inuit Circumpolar Council, Saami Council), Chairs of AC working groups (PAME, CAFF, AMAP) and four observer organizations (IASC, WWF, OSPAR, Circumpolar Conservation Union).

During the two-day meeting the following items were discussed according to the mandate:

  1. Agreed “Functional Needs” and “Values and Principles”
  2. Structure and Function of a potential Subsidiary Body
  3. Complementary Enhancements to Existing Arctic Council Mechanisms

The TFAMC-I had produced a 9-page report and this report forms the basis for the work in TFAMC II. In its report TFAMC-I compared and contrasted the Arctic Council's approach to marine stewardship (term used instead of management) with regional marine cooperation around the world. It identified a range of needs and opportunities for enhancing and strengthening the ACs role in Arctic marine stewardship, including progress toward implementing an ecosystem-based approach to management. In the new Task Force the focus is on what the potential new AC body may be expected to achieve and how it could be organized. Of interest to IASC is also that there has been another previous AC Task Force that has dealt with International Arctic Scientific Cooperation. The latter Task Force has prepared an agreement on enhancing scientific cooperation that was signed by the Ministers in May 2017. Both these Task Force outputs (report and agreement) can be downloaded from the AC Web site.

During the meeting, it appeared that there seems to be a need for a new body that could have strategic, synthesis, advisory and communication functions. The following ideas were discussed but no decisions were made:

  • The new body should be organized so that all other bodies within the Arctic council will benefit from it.
  • It should have added value by filling gaps, not take over tasks from WGs or SAOs (Senior Arctic Officials from ministries).
  • An overall aim could be that the scientific and technical outputs produced in the AC WGs will reach the SAOs better and that the outputs will be better implemented in practice.
  • The new body’s work should be based on the best available science on marine conservation and sustainable use of the ecosystem.
  • For this it is necessary to look at the full stewardship cycle (planning - science - retaining observations - conducting scientific assessment - policy - environmental assessment).
  • The new body could be an aid in the efficient use of resources for the benefit of the marine environment and be flexible and adaptable when new developments arise.

Strategic tasks of the new body could be to identify new and emerging needs for marine cooperation between the Arctic states, e.g. in identifying environmental problems or raising policy issues (policy-shaping, not policy making which is done by the Ministers). Specific policy questions are dealt with within the WGs so the new group should work with overarching strategic policy. The body could provide strategic guidance for making the AC work more effectively but cannot put any regulations upon the states (principle of the AC). A Strategic Plan on marine issues could be developed through an iterative bottom-up (WGs, stakeholders, scientists) and top-down (SAOs, Ministers) process.

Synthesis tasks could include overarching and cross-cutting syntheses of the scientific and technical outputs from the AC WGs, evaluate work done outside the AC (e.g. by IASC, ICES, scientific literature) and identify gaps in knowledge. The new body could also e.g. make assessment reports on how well the eight states are doing, which IASC could contribute to.

Advisory tasks for the new body could be based on the syntheses. Today there seems to be a practical gap between WGs and SAOs. The new Body could have two-way communication with both the WGs and the SAOs. This would be especially useful for cross-cutting issues, e.g. specific knowledge from the different WGs can be combined and summarized in the new body to the SAOs about what to recommend to the ministers about e.g. oil spills.

The new body could be a communication tool with the outside world and show how the AC responds to the demand from the world community that Arctic marine issues are addressed properly. Key is also communication with external stakeholders.

The structure of the new body should fully fit with the legal construction of AC, e.g. respect the rights of the sovereign coastal states. Regulatory functions (e.g. the ongoing fisheries discussions) would be outside the role of the AC. The structure of the new body could build on experiences from e.g. HELCOM, OSPAR, ICES to develop mechanisms for regional cooperation and be based on UNCLOS, a cornerstone for the AC activities.

The new body could consist of key marine policy experts/advisors with implementation power in the different countries and Participating Parties. The persons could change from meeting to meeting according to their expertise to fit the meeting agenda. It is important that a country representative can influence implementation so therefore the level of a decision-making authority level could be appropriate. The new body could also include the Chairs of WGs or someone decided by the WG Chairs.

During the meeting, I raised the issue that policy-oriented science would benefit from joint financing of science by an “Arctic Research Council” according to the EU ERAnet model, as e.g. BONUS in the Baltic Sea (www.bonusportal.org), through cooperation of the research councils funding Arctic research in the different countries. This has been proven to produce less fragmentation of science, higher environmental relevance and higher scientific quality. It is also an instrument to increase international cooperation, interdisciplinarity of science, and dissemination to stakeholders. Besides original research projects this research council could finance syntheses studies, including an analysis of how the science on a particular environmental problem is used in practice and how that can be improved (again with BONUS as an example). However, the previous AC science task force had concluded that the scientific funding organizations in the different countries can share information about their research priorities but are not ready to coordinate joint international calls.