Arctic Council’s climate work continues with full U.S. participation, despite Paris pullout, says diplomat

SAO Chair Aleksi Härkönen at the Arctic Council meeting in Oulu, Finland this week. (Linnea Nordström/Arctic Council Secretariat)
President Donald Trump may have nixed U.S. participation in the Paris accord, but the Arctic Council’s climate change work continues as usual, Finland’s top Arctic diplomat said on Thursday.

“We have not noticed any change in the intensity, regarding climate change issues, by any delegation,” said Aleksi Härkönen, chair of the Arctic Council’s Senior Arctic Officials, at a news conference in Oulu, Finland.

“The emphasis on climate issues remains as it was. We have not experienced any cutbacks by the U.S. on these issues. Climate change is a scientific fact which will affect the Arctic region just like all regions globally. ”

The Arctic Council is an international forum made up of the world’s eight circumpolar nations and the six organizations representing the Arctic’s Indigenous Peoples. There’s also a limited number of observer states and organizations admitted by the forum to contribute to the Council’s work.

The forum’s mandate is to discuss environmental protection and sustainable development.

The Oulu meeting was the first full gathering of the international forum’s Senior Arctic Officials since Finland took over the two-year rotating chairmanship from the United States this May.

Arctic Council - Quick Facts

Year formed: 1996

Arctic Council Members: Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia, United States

Permanent Participants: Aleut International Association, Arctic Athabaskan Council, Gwich’in Council International, Inuit Circumpolar Council, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Saami Council

Current Chair:  Finland (2017-2019)

What’s ahead for COP23?

Shortly after the chairmanship handover, U.S. President Donald Trump announced his plan to with withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, a decision denounced by  Arctic countries around the world.

However, Härkönen saught to smooth over any question of rifts amongst the forum’s members, stressing that the Arctic Council would  be present at COP23, the United Nations climate change conference, in Bonn next month, a decision made with “no dissenting voices.”

Role of observers in forum’s work
Observer delegates at meeting in Oulu, Finland. Observer countries and organizations are making important contributions to the forum’s work says SAO Chair Aleksi Härkönen. (Linnea Nordström/Arctic Council Secretariat)

Härkönen also stressed the increasing role the Arctic Council’s observers were playing in the forum’s work.

Observer special sessions, particularly when it comes to pollution prevention, are already producing important work, he said.

“Pollution knows no boundaries,” he said. “It was useful to hear the contributions that the observers were able to offer.

“Most observers it turned out, had quite a bit to say about pollution prevention, about their own activities.  They discussed also some plans they have for the future in the this area.”

The Arctic Council’s observers includes 13 non-arctic states , 13 intergovernmental and inter-Parliamentary organizations,  and 13 Non-governmental organizations.

The next Senior Arctic Officials’ will take place in Kittilä, Finland this March.

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

Related stories from around the North:

Canada:  Arctic Council continues to defy pessimism, Blog by Heather Exner-Pirot

Finland:  Arctic Council set to meet in Oulu, Yle News

Iceland: Norwegians and Icelanders let Alaskans in on the secrets to economic prosperity, Alaska Dispatch News

Norway:  Barents bishops ask Arctic Council to promote fossil-free future, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Arctic Council ministerial – View from Russia, Eye on the Arctic

United States: Arctic Council presents united front as Finland takes over from U.S., Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying an culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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