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A man photographs a giant inukshuk as the moon rises above it in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
A man photographs a giant inukshuk as the moon rises above it in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

Four new projects set agenda for Arctic Council’s coming term Add to ...

After a snowy final day, Canada’s Arctic Council summit has wrapped up with four new projects that will lay the groundwork for its two-year term as chair.

Officials concluded talks in Whitehorse on Wednesday, pledging to study subjects such as mental illness, gender equality, marine oil-spill preparedness and “adaptation” to climate change. Canada has also pledged a focus on projects that improve the lives of Northerners.

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“I’m very pleased with the progress we’ve been making,” said Canada’s Patrick Borbey, who is serving as chair of the eight countries’ senior arctic officers. Outgoing chair Gustaf Lind of Sweden told Canada to “keep up the good work.”

SHIPPING AND SPILLS

Canada’s tenure saw a task force struck up to look at marine oil-spill prevention – a subject Canadian Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq said is more important as shipping appears set to expand in the North with the opening of the Northwest Passage.

Iceland said it will prepare a push to be considered as a hub for Arctic search and rescue, while Russia discussed its commitment to build new ice-breakers. Denmark, which has a large shipping industry, said the subject is a critical one. Finland’s senior Arctic official Hannu Halinen highlighted his country’s expertise, saying safety plans are critical because energy development is inevitable. “It will happen anyway, so let’s do this in the best possible way we can.”

POLLUTION AND EMISSIONS

Under Canada’s term as chair, one of four task forces – co-chaired by Canada – will look at pollution from methane and black carbon, or soot, which the council has called “short-term” problems driving climate change.

This week’s meeting also saw several research projects approved, including one on cancer cases among Arctic residents. Mr. Borbey, the Canadian chair, also said the council “noted the great progress” in reducing mercury emissions, a key contaminant of indigenous food sources. The council adopted a report on pesticide storage in Russia.

Norway’s Arctic officer, Else-Berit Eikeland, said Canada, “with Kyoto and emissions and so on,” has a different view of environmental questions, but that “we have more in common than our differences. It’s like a big family.”

RESEARCH AND ABORIGINAL INPUT

One new task force will tackle scientific co-operation – the sharing of data and a pledge to let scientists move freely.

The council also asked its Indigenous Peoples’ Secretariat for help in figuring out how to add more indigenous knowledge to research, a key Canadian priority.

A council report on Arctic plants and wildlife was released, and a new group led by Canada and the U.S. will study “adaptation to climate change.” Asked whether the council – which met behind closed doors – discussed allegations Canada’s government is muzzling its scientists, Mr. Borbey declined comment, but said Environment Canada’s work was praised during the tabling of a new report. An American official questioned whether the role of science will be diminished under Canada’s chairmanship.

OTHER PROJECTS

The council has roughly 85 projects ongoing at any one time – largely legacies of previous chairmanships. Russia’s senior Arctic official called it “manageable,” but said each year brings more and more meetings. In Whitehorse, the council discussed a renewed request from aboriginal groups, six of which are permanent participants, for funding support to attend all the meetings and working groups. No decision was made.

One new project is a study of mental health in the North. Another group will look at gender equality, a subject proposed by Iceland and supported broadly, including by Canada. The Canadians will create a circumpolar business forum, broadly supported by other countries, though details are fuzzy. It will launch in January, but not likely be finalized before senior officials meet again in Yellowknife in March.

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