Venezuelan tensions part of discussion at Arctic Council meeting

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The two-day ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council sees representatives of six indigenous permanent participant organisations, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US meeting in the capital of Finnish Lapland. (Linnea Nordström/Arctic Council Secretariat)
The Arctic Council ministerial meeting began on Monday in Rovaniemi, Arctic Finland with one of the most highly anticipated talks being between American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The representatives are expected to discuss the crisis in Venezuela although that is not part of the Arctic Council meeting’s main agenda, which is to undersign a document regarding climate change in the Arctic region.

The two-day event sees representatives of six indigenous permanent participant organisations, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States meeting in the capital of Finnish Lapland.

The US and Russia are on opposing sides in the political standoff in the Latin American state. Russia supports President Nicolás Maduro, while the US and many other countries – including Finland – support opposition leader and former National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó, who has declared himself interim president.

US position up in the air

The 11th Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council is chaired by Finland’s Foreign Minister Timo Soini, who will also meet with his foreign minister colleagues bilaterally.

The main intent of the meeting is for participating nations to sign the Arctic Council’s Rovaniemi Process on climate issues. The process document has aimed, until the last moment, to find the right wording to satisfy all of the parties, including the US. However President Donald Trump’s administration has attempted to remove references to climate change from an Arctic Council declaration on Arctic policy.

During Monday’s meeting it will become clear whether the seven other member countries can convince the US to compromise on action against climate change and sustainable development in the region.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was expected to give a speech about the goals of the current US government regarding the Arctic region on Monday.

Black coal emission reduction

A further objective of the meeting is the reduction of black coal emissions. Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö has been vocal about the problem of black coal in the Arctic region.

The Arctic Council does not have a separate strategy document regarding black coal emissions cuts. However, if progress is made on the topic, it could be considered a victory for Finland, a country which made climate change and other environmental concerns central themes of its two-year term as chair of the council, which ends this month.

Finland hands presidency to Iceland
Finland will end its two-year chairmanship by handing over the gavel to Iceland on Tuesday. (Linnea Nordström/Arctic Council Secretariat)

The council has become more relevant in recent years as sea ice thaws are opening up new trade routes and intensifying competition for the area’s oil, gas and mineral resources.

The two-year presidency of the Finnish Arctic Council will end with a declaration that will also serve as a guide for the next presidency, Iceland. The declaration can be seen as an assessment of Finland’s success in the position.

Iceland will inherit Finland’s goal. The two-year targets for countries have historically always been adopted by their successors, so it is unlikely that there will be any big changes ahead.

The weakness of Iceland’s forthcoming presidency of the Arctic Council will likely be Iceland’s commercial whaling industry, which the small island nation has not agreed to abandon. Although whaling is not on the official agenda of the Arctic Council, it may rise as in issue over the next two years.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Canadian Arctic report urges stronger ties with NATO, Indigenous communities, but weak on science, say experts, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Interview – Finland’s Senior Arctic Official looks back at two years of Finnish Arctic Council chairmanship, Blog by Heather Exner-Pirot

Iceland: Iceland talks Arctic, Trump’s ditching of climate accord, with U.S. Secretary of State, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Norwegian, Russian foreign ministers find common ground on northern issues at Italy meeting, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Nordic leaders stand united as they sit with Putin in Russia, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: U.S. must pay attention to growing China-Russia alliance in Arctic: expert, Alaska Public Media

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