Canada opposes formalizing Arctic Council

Canada opposes formalizing Arctic Council
The urgency of melting ice in the Arctic means binding agreements need to be made, says MP Dennis Bevington.Photo: NASA Goddard Photo and Video.

Though consensus among Arctic parliamentarians meeting in Iceland last week was to develop the Arctic Council into a fully-fledged international organization, documents show Canada’s department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) is opposed to the motion.

The final statement of the 10th Conference of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region expresses a commitment to “initiate discussions toward developing the Arctic Council into a formal international organization by adopting an exclusive treaty among the eight Arctic states to give themselves more binding power.”

But documents from DFAIT made available to The Journal show Canada will not support the endeavour.

“There is no pressing call to do so,” reads the document. “The Council has worked well as a voluntary body. Canada is not in favour of turning the Arctic Council into an international organization.”

The document also indicates Canada’s lack of support for holding the biannual conference annually, noting that the Arctic Council can hold interim meetings at the deputy minister level if necessary.

Western Arctic MP Dennis Bevington said Canada’s indifference towards the foremost two motions of the conference risks adequately addressing dramatic environmental changes in the Arctic.

“Canada is not in favour of turning the Arctic Council into a foreign organization, but there is a pressing call to do so because the Arctic is changing so rapidly,” Bevington told The Journal. “The sense of urgency is rising.”

Bevington, who attended the conference along with Liberal Senator Percy Downe, Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth and Conservative MP Larry Miller, said parliamentarians were presented with the most recent science on the Arctic, showing the smallest amount of ice on record and the disconcerting appearance of huge cyclonic storms breaking up ice caps in the Arctic.

Furthermore, he said, 97 per cent of ice on Greenland melted this summer.

“It used to be projected that in 2050 the Arctic would be opened up to travel; now they’re saying 2020,” Bevington said. “The whole thing is much more in our face. We’re quite clearly going to have a new ocean to deal with, and we need to deal with that new ocean better than we have with other oceans. We need cooperative action.”

He said a formal international body would allow for creating binding intergovernmental agreements, similar to organizations like the UN or NATO, which could ultimately better protect the environment and indigenous peoples of the Arctic.

Canada takes over as chair of the Arctic Council from Sweden next year. Canadian Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq was appointed chair last week to the surprise of some, as the last seven chairs appointed have been foreign affairs ministers for their respective countries.

Canada has yet to form an agenda for its 2013-2015 term as chair.

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