SAO in PortlandThe Northern Forum attends the Arctic Council’s Senior Arctic Officials (SAOs) and indigenous Permanent Participant organizations (PPs) meeting in Portland, Maine, on 5-6 of October 2016 to discuss the Council’s ongoing work and future plans to address environmental issues and promote sustainable development in the Arctic.

The Arctic Council’s SAOs and PPs meet twice a year to receive progress reports on the Council’s work, approve publications and other products for public release, and plan the near-term and long-term direction of the Council.

On the agenda for discussion at the meeting is the Council’s work on: climate change and resilience; black carbon and methane; long-term strategic planning for the Council; oil pollution prevention and response; scientific cooperation; and other issues of concern to the Council and the Arctic region as a whole.

The United States currently holds the rotating Chairmanship of the Council. The program for the U.S. Chairmanship (2015-2017) focuses on: climate change; economic and living conditions; and Arctic Ocean safety, security, and stewardship. The Portland meeting will serve as the first opportunity for delegates to discuss the proposed program for the upcoming Finnish Arctic Council Chairmanship (2017-2019).

The delegates will also recognize the 20th anniversary of the Arctic Council. The Council was founded on 19 September 1996 with the signing of the Ottawa Declaration, and the 20th anniversary is an opportunity to recommit to the Council’s key principles.

The Northern Forum has the observer status in the Arctic Council since 1996 and among other observers it is under evaluation during US chairmanship in this intergovernmental forum. This time Executive Director of the Northern Forum Mikhail Pogodaev and the representative of Northern Forum in Alaska, the Executive Director of the Institute of the North Nils Andreassen are attending the SAO meeting and presenting the report of the Northern Forum contribution to the work of the Arctic Council.

They addressed the perspectives of regional governments and noted that the Northern Forum has contributed, over the years, expertise that comes from local knowledge and the research apparatus embedded in regional and local government agencies. Russian regional governments are extremely active in sharing science and research related to the infrastructure and environmental protection, as well as social and cultural priorities.

Alaska and Lapland – returning members just this year – will bring similar expertise. In Alaska, the state government is extremely capable and brings significant resources. Many local governments also maintain research programs that integrate western and indigenous knowledge.

Northern Forum encourages the Arctic Council member states, Permanent Participants and Working Groups to better leverage sub-national governments in their work products. In this way they will find a stronger, more resilient result, informed by the northerners.

It is worth recognizing the close cooperation between regional governments and the university systems based in northern communities. This is a relationship that complements the work of the Arctic Council, focused on addressing the challenges of socio-economic development, climate change, and sustainability.

One way to have more meaningful engagement by northerners is to include regional representatives in the state delegations, in a way that sub-national governments can share within the Arctic Council structure the priorities and perspectives of local and regional governments.

Another way is to bring Arctic Council projects to the Northern Forum’s newly-initiated thematic working groups, in which regional governments are contributing into the work of experts. These align with Arctic Council priorities.

In conclusion, the Northern Forum remains committed to supporting and strengthening the Arctic Council process by contributing into the research and the subject matter expertise represented by its member regions.