U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Canada’s Leona Aglukkaq and other world leaders are gathering in Nuuk, Greenland, for what observers are calling a historic meeting of the Arctic Council.
Foreign affairs ministers and other leaders from Canada, the U.S., Russia, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Sweden and Denmark are set to meet Thursday in Nuuk, where they will sign an international search-and-rescue treaty.
The treaty, which will require Arctic Council nations to co-ordinate with each other in the event of a plane crash, cruise ship sinking, big oil spill or other major disaster, will be the first legally binding agreement to be reached by the circumpolar intergovernmental forum.
Clinton’s participation in the Arctic Council’s ministerial meeting is gaining a lot of attention in Greenland this week, as is the presence of U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
“It’s an historic meeting. This is the first time that almost all superpower players in the Arctic are here,” Aqqaluk Lynge, international chairman of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, told CBC News.
Clinton and the other leaders were expected to arrive in Nuuk sometime on Wednesday evening.
Environmental concerns to be discussed
More than 60 journalists are accredited to cover this week’s meeting, much more than in past years. As well, extra police will boost security at the meeting venue, which is expected to host more than 300 officials and other delegates.
While in Nuuk, the leaders are also expected to discuss climate change and debate growing environmental concerns about oil and gas exploration and development.
“The whole Arctic population is dependent on wise use of our resources that do not pollute our food source,” Lynge said. “That’s the interest of all Arctic peoples, not just only for indigenous peoples.”
On Wednesday, Inuit leaders signed a joint declaration that calls for careful and sustainable development in the Arctic.
“Inuit from around the circumpolar world are speaking with a clear and united voice regarding fundamental Inuit requirements and expectations with respect to the development of natural resources in the Inuit homeland,” Mary Simon, president of the Canadian organization Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, stated in a release.
Inuit from around the circumpolar world, including Canada, have struggled to find common ground on how to balance resource development with environmental protection in the Arctic.
The declaration does not state a unified stance on the controversial issue of uranium mining, instead allowing Inuit leaders in each country to form their own positions.
Aglukkaq represents Canada
Ministers at the Arctic Council meeting will also talk about the future role the council should have in a changing northern environment.
Canada is sending Aglukkaq to Nuuk for Thursday’s meeting, since former foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon lost his seat in the May 2 federal election.
Aglukkaq, health minister in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s last government, was re-elected as the Conservative MP for Nunavut. She is the first Inuk to hold a senior cabinet post.
Lynge said he is particularly proud that Aglukkaq and Greenland Premier Kuupik Kleist will be at the same table as Clinton, Lavrov and other high-ranking leaders, since that means Arctic indigenous peoples will not be forgotten.
With so many “superpower” leaders in Nuuk this week, Lynge said he hopes they can reach some important agreements on environmental issues such as climate change and oil spills.