The Arctic Council was established by Arctic nations as forum to discuss and decide Arctic issues which overlap national boundaries. The chairmanship rotates every two years and now, it is Finland’s turn to chair the council. At the next council meeting in Fairbanks, it will take over the Arctic council as well as the climate leadership from the currently presiding United States.

The Arctic councils consists of the eight member states USA, Canada, Russia, Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Sweden and 12 observer states. It governs all issues that affect Arctic nations including the climate and environmental issues as well as cultural and political issues by Arctic native peoples. Picture: Arctic Council
The Arctic councils consists of the eight member states USA, Canada, Russia, Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Sweden and 12 observer states. It governs all issues that affect Arctic nations including the climate and environmental issues as well as cultural and political issues by Arctic native peoples. Picture: Arctic Council

When the Arctic Council leadership passes from the United States to Finland in May, will President Trump and his denial of climate change pose problems for the eight-nation body and its work to protect the circumpolar environment? Probably not, says a Finnish official involved in the Arctic Council. For example, a spirit of Arctic partnership in the council has prevailed despite seething global tensions over Russia's annexation of Crimea, its role in Ukraine unrest and its military actions in support of Syria's Assad regime, said René Söderman, a senior adviser for Arctic affairs at the Finnish foreign ministry and one of the leaders of the Finnish delegation to the Arctic Council. Those factors "could all affect Arctic cooperation, but they haven't," Söderman said. The United States and Russia have put aside the differences they have on non-Arctic issues, he said. "We feel that the U.S. has been very pragmatic and the Russians have been very cooperative within the Arctic Council," he said. Such Arctic cooperation will likely continue under the Trump administration, he said. The Arctic nations have common interests in promoting environmental protection, sustained development and better living conditions for people in the Arctic, he said. "Those issues don't know any borders," he said.

Despite geopolitical tensions, cooperation between Arctic Council member states prevailed and the states cooperate in issues like sustained development for Arctic people and the communities like Gjoa Haven in the Canadian Arctic. Picture: Michael Wenger
Despite geopolitical tensions, cooperation between Arctic Council member states prevailed and the states cooperate in issues like sustained development for Arctic people and the communities like Gjoa Haven in the Canadian Arctic. Picture: Michael Wenger

Söderman spoke during a break during this week's three-day meeting in Juneau of the Arctic Council's Senior Arctic Officials. It is one of the last official Arctic Council events in the two-year U.S. chairmanship term, which under Obama administration leadership placed heavy emphasis on addressing Arctic climate change. Finland's chairmanship plan does the same. One high priority in the Finnish program is the 2015 Paris climate agreement and figuring out how the Arctic nations will abide by it and take action to accomplish its goals. Trump has vowed, at various times, to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement. But Söderman said he is not worried about that happening soon. "The U.S., like Finland and all of the other countries in the Arctic Council, are signatories and have ratified the climate accord," he said. Once in the agreement, a country is bound to it, at least for the immediate future, he said. "You cannot get out of the climate agreement. It doesn't happen overnight." Still, it remains unclear how Trump's rhetoric will translate into action on climate change, an issue "of the utmost importance" to the Arctic nations, Söderman said. "We don't know the U.S. climate policy yet. Nobody knows," he said.

This is the gavel used by the Chairman of Senior Arctic Officials at Arctic Council meetings. This gavel was presented at a dinner to celebrate Canada's second chairmanship of the Arctic Council (2013-2015). Credit: Arctic Council Secretariat / Linnea Nordström
This is the gavel used by the Chairman of Senior Arctic Officials at Arctic Council meetings. This gavel was presented at a dinner to celebrate Canada's second chairmanship of the Arctic Council (2013-2015). Credit: Arctic Council Secretariat / Linnea Nordström

Source: Yereth Rosen, Alaska Dispatch News