On the occasion of the Arctic Council's 20th anniversary, we asked Ambassador David Balton, the current Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials, for some of his thoughts on the Council's past, present, and future. This is the first of three segments.
You’re helping to guide the Arctic Council as it meets its 20th birthday, but you’ve been involved with some of the Council’s most well-publicized initiatives for quite some time. How has the Council changed in the years that you’ve been involved?
The Council has grown remarkably in scope and ambition since its inception 20 years ago, and even over the past 5-6 years in which I have been involved in its work. This growth, of course, reflects the increasing interest in the Arctic region. I believe that the warming Arctic climate generates much of this interest. Thanks in part to the top-flight assessments of climate change and related phenomena that the Arctic Council has produced, people throughout the world have a much greater appreciation of the profound effects of climate change on the Arctic and of the effects of Arctic climate change on the rest of the planet.
Through the Arctic Council, the governments of the Arctic States and the representatives of Arctic indigenous peoples have worked to address the pressing challenges facing the Arctic Region. My initial participation in the Council took place in Task Forces that produced the first two binding agreements among the 8 Arctic States – one on improving search and rescue capability in the Arctic and the other on preparing for – and responding to – oil pollution incidents in the Arctic marine environment. One might ask why the Arctic Council decided to embark on these two initiatives. To me, the answer is clear: increasing human activity in the Arctic, made possible by climate change, required new areas of cooperation among the Arctic governments. The Arctic Council provided the ideal forum in which to launch these initiatives.
I have witnessed some other changes in the Arctic Council as well. The Arctic indigenous peoples, represented on the Council through six Permanent Participant organizations, have managed to collaborate in new and impressive ways with the Arctic governments, despite chronic shortages of financial and human resources. The ranks of Arctic Council Observers have also grown over the years, and those Observers have found ways to contribute and engage productively. The Council has established a permanent Secretariat, which has strengthened the Council’s ability to stay organized, to keep track of its missions and commitments and to communicate internally and externally. Finally, the Council has helped to launch some other bodies that will serve as its partners, including the Arctic Economic Council, the Arctic Offshore Regulators’ Forum and the Arctic Coast Guard Forum.
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