The stewards of the Arctic: A changing region requires cooperation

Einar Gunnarsson, Ambassador Arctic Affairs, Iceland and Chair of the Arctic Council’s Senior Arctic Officials, sheds light on why the changing region of the Arctic requires cooperation

The warming of the Arctic occurs at double the to name just a few. Not to mention the direct impact global rate, with some places like the Arctic Archipelago Svalbard, projected to have an average increase in air temperature by 10 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. The average volume of Arctic sea ice in the month of September has declined by 75% since 1979. I could go on about the vitally important science and numbers that point to massive challenges we face ahead and have already begun to feel. However, the future of the Arctic is also about the environmental and human impact in front of and behind those numbers. It is about how science fuels policy and regulatory support. How to create resilient and robust communities where people can adapt to the unavoidable changes and create a secure future for themselves. And it is about the global cooperation we need to build a sustainable future.

The changing Arctic has an environmental impact such as shifts in tundra vegetation, coastal erosion, stressed ecosystems, increases in wildfires and loss of sea ice – that these changes are having on the more than four million people who call the Arctic their home. As the landscape changes, biodiversity vulnerabilities threaten our food security and the traditional ways of life. Sea ice melting opens new shipping routes and opportunities for other sea-based activities that expand economic possibilities, but at the same time, creates challenges in marine conservation and search and rescue operations.

International cooperation

As we learn more about the challenges we face in the Arctic, the importance of joining hands in our work towards a sustainable Arctic is clear. In 1996, the Arctic States and Permanent Participants that represent Indigenous peoples in the Arctic, signed the Ottawa Declaration establishing the Arctic Council as “a high-level forum to provide cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States, with the involvement of the Arctic Indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues, in particular, the issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic.”

This declaration marked a milestone in international cooperation – creating a unique forum where State and Indigenous representatives, with diverse political systems and ideologies, gather at the same table tackling the Arctic’s most pressing challenges in a peaceful setting. In this, the Arctic Council sets an example, among international fora. We would not be where we are today without the integration of traditional knowledge, passionate participation and valuable contributions of the Arctic Indigenous peoples. And we cannot make declarations and set the Arctic agenda without input from the over 500,000 Indigenous people who live here.

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